F. E. McWilliam (1909-1992)

Woman of Belfast V

Sculpture in bronze

38cm x 52cm x 23cm

Collection F.E. McWilliam Gallery, Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council.


Frederick Edward McWilliam was one of the foremost sculptors working in Britain in the 20th Century. Born on Newry Street, Banbridge on 30th April 1909, he was a son of the local GP. He attended the preparatory department of Banbridge Academy before going to Campbell College in Belfast. He enrolled in Belfast Art College for a brief period before moving to London with the intention of continuing his training in painting at the Slade School of Fine Art. However, under the influence of his teacher, A. H.Gerrard, and the sculptor Henry Moore, McWilliam instead turned his attention to sculpture. In 1932, he married fellow-student Beth Crowther. His early pieces of sculpture were semi-abstract but by the later half on the 1930s, his work had taken on a Surreal aspect. In March 1939, McWilliam had his first one-man show in London but with the outbreak of war later that year his life took a dramatic turn. He joined the RAF and towards the end of the war served in India, where he visited Hindu temples and was influenced by the country’s tradition of sculpture. During the 1950s, McWilliam’s work progressed into more abstract large bronze pieces and he received a number of public commissions, including Princess Macha at Altnagelvin Hospital, Derry.

After his death in 1992, McWilliam’s estate gifted the contents of his London studio to Banbridge District Council. The F. E. McWilliam Gallery and Studio opened in 2008 to celebrate his life and work, including a replica of his London studio. This piece, Woman of Belfast V, was gifted to the gallery in 2012 by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

On the 4th March 1972, a bomb exploded in the Abercorn Tea-rooms in Belfast, killing two women and injuring 130 people. McWilliam, who was living in London at the time and had never before used his art for direct political comment, was moved by this atrocity to make a series of bronzes, known collectively as Women of Belfast. This series, which has both local and universal relevance, is now recognised as one of the most powerful artistic responses to the conflict in Northern Ireland.