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  Biographical Timeline
Peter King born in London. His mother was a school teacher and his father employed in a variety of trades such as window-dressing, involving both manual and artistic skills. King inherited this interest in making things, and his artistic potential was soon acknowledged.

King was evacuated from London to Weston-Super-Mare as a teenager. He was already reading widely on religion, psychology and philosophy, and was also precocious as an artist.

He experimented with plaster and other materials at an early age, and by around the age of fifteen, was already making highly proficient wood carvings, such as his Seated Figure with Faun circa 1943 (right).

Attended Wimbledon School of Art. In a surviving notebook, King describes some of his works completed at Wimbledon as ‘academic studies’; however, he established a considerable technical fluency. He also became competent as a photographer, and many of the glass plates he used to record his own work have survived, together with many of his photographic prints.
King began to work with the monumental stonemasons, Gerald Giudici in London. He also began to work as an assistant to the sculptor Sir Charles Wheeler.
King spent almost two years in the Air Force. He was in Germany for the Berlin Airlift operations, and wrote a satirical account of his military experiences in his notebooks.

After leaving the Air Force, King moved to live and work at the Abbey Art Centre in High Barnet. This arts centre and artists’ commune had opened in 1949 on the initiative of William Ohly, a collector (particularly of primitive art) who was also the owner of the Berkeley Galleries. Some of Ohly’s extensive collection of ethnic art from Africa, Indonesia, and Tibet was on display in a converted barn directly opposite King’s studio at the Centre. (In the photo right the covered entrance leads to the barn on the right and King's studio on the left.) The early sculpture and assemblages King made at the Abbey Art Centre were influenced by primitive art, and often used found wood and incorporated objet trouvé.

There were many talented artists living in the commune, and King became a close friend of the Scottish painter Alan Davie, and met the Indian painter F.N.Souza and the ceramicists Lucie Rie and Hans Coper.

King exhibited early works at Ohly’s Berkeley Galleries, alongside jewellery pieces by Alan Davie and cut-out figures by Lotte Reiniger. King became a friend of Reiniger, who was an animator, and her husband Carl Koch, a scriptwriter who had worked with Jean Renoir. Reiniger and Koch became godparents to King’s first two children (see photo of family group on right, showing from left to right: Katharine King, Peter King, Michael King, Janet King, Lotte Reiniger and Carl Koch). Reiniger taught King the principles of shadow-puppet animation which he used later when he made his own animated film.

King built his own home-made foundry at the Centre, and cast many works, mainly using the lost wax technique, which he had been shown by Alan Davie. King also cast two bronzes for Anthony Caro. The photographer, Ida Kar, at that time married to Victor Musgrave, took a series of photographs of King, including some of him with the foundry (these are now in the Ida Kar Archive in the National Portrait Gallery, London).


King exhibited two sculptures in the Abbey Art Centre Artists’ exhibition at the Berkeley Galleries.

Among the commissions King helped to carve in 1951-52, was the allegorical stone figurative work, Earth and Water by Sir Charles Wheeler for Horseguards Avenue, London. In 1952, King worked for Guidici on the restoration of the stone carvings on the House of Commons. The quality of his work for Guidici and Wheeler led to King being recommended to Henry Moore, who took him on as assistant in 1952.

King's first commission for Henry Moore was the fourth large stone component of the frieze on the Time Life building on Bond Street (highlighted in the image on the right). The block of stone was delivered to the Abbey Art Centre where King executed the piece according to drawings by Moore, entirely with hand tools, as he could not afford anything else. Moore is reputed to have said that he only had to think of a piece and King could make it. The success of this first commission led to regular work for King at Moore's. At Hoglands, Henry Moore’s home and studio, King worked alongside Anthony Caro, Alan Ingham and Peter Atkins.


King began to teach at St Martin’s School of Art as a part-time lecturer. Frank Martin, who ran the Department of Sculpture, invited King to teach bronze-casting. Martin recruited progressive sculptors to his teaching team, including Anthony Caro, Eduardo Paolozzi, Elizabeth Frink and Robert Clatworthy. (The photo on the right shows King in his studio at the Abbey Art Centre around that time)

In May 1953, King married Katharine Weiss, and their son Michael was born later that year.


First solo exhibition at Victor Musgrave’s Gallery One in Soho, London from mid December 1953 to mid January 1954 (invite in photo right).

Birth of King’s daughter, Janet.


King made a submission for the TUC Congress House sculpture competition (the photo right shows a monotype submitted as the design for his macquette). The commission eventually went to Jacob Epstein and Bernard Meadows.

Four of King’s works included in New Sculptors, Painter-Sculptors at the ICA, London.

He broke his leg in a motor-cycle accident late in 1955 and subsequently had on-going health problems. This led to King leaving Henry Moore’s team of assistants.


Second solo exhibition at Gallery One. The gallery was featured in a documentary film called Sunshine in Soho made by Burt Hyams in 1956, and King can be seen for a few seconds speaking to a lady visitor to the gallery about his sculptures.

He was given a grant of £600 to make an animated film, using the shadow-puppet and rostrum technique he had been taught by Lotte Reiniger. This film, The Thirteen Cantos of Hell, was first screened at the British Film Institute in London (the photo right is a cel from the animation).

King won the Boise Scholarship and as a result spent five weeks travelling to Paris, Rome, Cannes. His film was shown at the Musée de l'Homme in Paris, and at the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna in Rome.


In January, King showed selected works at Gallery One in London. He also had solo exhibitions in Paris at the Galerie Rive Gauche and at the Galerie Edouard Loeb, and in Rome at the Schneider Gallery. His wooden sculpture, Animal and Rider, was exhibited in Contemporary British Sculpture, the Open Air Exhibition arranged by the Arts Council of Great Britain. His ciment fondu Standing Figure was exhibited in Holland Park in the London County Council Exhibition, Sculpture 1850 and 1950.

Around this period, King often used a technique he had been working on for some time: he would throw molten metal into sand, and draw sculptural forms into it. Victor Musgrave described this process as ‘action sculpting’ in a direct reference to the way that Jackson Pollock worked on his paintings. In his notebook King describes this method: the works were "produced by throwing the molten metal on a bed of fire-resisting material, and manipulating the metal before it sets. Each piece so produced is joined to the next by thrusting the solid form in the molten mass of the next one, so building up the desired structure." (The photo right shows an example.) )Another of King’s innovations was the addition of molten glass to his works.

King had left his family around 1956, and established a new life with Shelagh Loader and their son, Conrad. He had an intense artistic relationship with Loader, and together they explored Jung’s psychology and alchemical writings. King began to work on an illustrated book called The Ash of Mimir, slightly reminiscent of Blake’s illuminated writings (the photo right shows the intended frontispiece).

By early 1957, King’s personal life became increasingly chaotic and his mental and physical health were affected; he had even made an attempt on his life the year before and had been briefly sectioned in a north London hospital: he described suburbia as the ‘citadel of schizophrenia’. Although he was in a deeply disturbed frame of mind, King continued to work prolifically and constantly experimented with new techniques. He had never really recovered from his injuries from the motor-cycle accident two years before, and at the beginning of October 1957, his health deteriorated further and he died at the end of the month. Victor Musgrave wrote King’s obituary in The Times, noting that ‘all his best work, much of which was done under unusual difficulties, reflected the warmth of his nature; it expressed the rich variety of an inquiring mind, imbued at times with great dignity, or tinged occasionally with a delightful sense of humour. He was one of those rare people of whom it can truly be said that to know him was to love him.’

Selected Bibliography

Berthoud, Roger, The Life of Henry Moore, London: Giles de la Mare Publishers, 2003, p. 303.

Wedd, Kit, et al, Creative Quarters – The Art World in London from 1700 to 2000, (Museum of London) London: Merrell, 2001, p. 135.

Mitchinson, David, et al, Hoglands – The Home of Henry and Irina Moore, Aldershot: Lund Humphries, 2007, pp. 73, 77, 90.

Curtis, Penelope, et al, Sculpture in 20th-century Britain Vol 2, Leeds: Henry Moore Institute, 2003, essay by Martin Harrison, pp. 191-193.

Barker, Ian, Anthony Caro – Quest for the New Sculpture, Kunzelsau: Swiridoff Verlag, 2004, p. 59.