Leon Underwood was born into a family of antiquaries and numismatists on the 25th December 1890. Despite the pressure to maintain this family tradition, Underwood stopped working at his father’s shop on Praed Street at the age of seventeen, to pursue an artistic career.
After studying at the Polytechnic School of Art on Regent Street, Underwood obtained a scholarship to the Royal College of Art, where he studied till 1913. Following this, Underwood was enlisted in the Royal Horse Artillery and, in 1917, obtained the rank of Captain in the Royal Engineers.
In 1920, Leon Underwood joined the Royal College as a member of faculty and began a new chapter of his life as an art teacher, with students such as Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore. The methods that Underwood used whilst teaching were reflective of his personal style; urging his students to sketch rapidly, with an emphasis upon line and movement.
The focus on medium and the manipulation of material unites Underwood’s oeuvre, rather than a signature style or common subject matter. Within every medium, Underwood displays a technical mastery. His first exhibitions were at the Chenil Galleries, Chelsea, where he caught the attention of the critic R.H Wilenski who included Underwood in the book, Draughtsman (1924). During the 1930s Underwood began to turn his main focus to sculpture. Self-taught, his sculptures are fluid and rhythmic and draw upon primitive influences from his travels.