Artist Victor Pasmore in his Pavilion exhibition in 1960
Victor Pasmore in his Pavilion exhibition in 1960 ©

British Council

Abstract painting, striking sculptural forms, Pop Art and Op Art dominated the Pavilion exhibitions in the swinging sixties. British artists, such as Bridget Riley and Antony Caro, also reaped Biennale awards during the 1960s.


The 1960s began with a group exhibition of five British artists. Scottish artist Eduardo Paolozzi, hot on the heels of Armitage’s award in 1958, won the David E. Bright Foundation Prize for a sculptor under 45 for his application of collage techniques to sculpture. Paolozzi showed a herd of abstract bronze sculpture animals at the Pavilion, including Chinese Dog (1958), now part of the Guggeheim’s collection, and Krokadeel (1959), now belonging to the University of Edinburgh’s Art Collection.

The Pavilion’s exhibition also featured engravings by Henry Cliffe and Merlyn Evans, and four prints by sculptor Geoffrey Clarke. The career of Victor Pasmore, a pioneer of British abstract art, was celebrated with a retrospective of his paintings.

These artists were chosen by the same selection committee as the late 1950s and Lilian Somerville, Director of Fine Arts at the British Council, was the Commissioner.


Life-size metal sculptures and bold canvases dominated the 1962 three-man show, featuring Welsh painter, relief and print-maker Ceri Richards, and English sculptors Robert Adams and Hubert Dalwood.

While the Pavilion exhibition featured 28 drawings, paintings and collages by Adams (all important forms to the artist), he also presented life-size metal sculpture. Adams' bronzed steel tubular Column (1961) featured alongside Dalwood’s 6-foot high Minos and High Judge (both 1962). Dalwood also won the David E. Bright Foundation Prize for a sculptor under 45.

Stretched across four-and-a-half metres of wall in the Pavilion were Richards' three vibrant canvases of La Cathédrale engloutie: augmenter progressivement (1960-62), a series inspired by Debussy’s prelude and the artist's talent for music. These paintings helped him to win the Biennale’s international painting prize, called the Giulio Einaudi Prize, and one of the paintings is now part of the British Council Collection.


Despite dramatic thunderstorms at the opening reception, a group exhibition featuring Roger Hilton, Bernard Meadows, Gwyther Irwin and Joe Tilson opened to great success. The artists were chosen by Somerville and the same committee panel as previous years. 

The Pavilion exhibition charted ten years of Hilton’s abstract painting, with his work March 1960 (1960), now part of the Tate’s collection, winning him the UNESCO Prize.

Meanwhile, Tilson’s work captured the imagination of European critics as ‘a pop art style independent of American influence’. Working across mixed media, his carpentry skills were evident in Key-box (1963) and the influences of pop art were seen in paintings like Secret (1963).

Modernist sculptor Meadows showed a series of abstract bronze works including Seated Arm Figure (1962).

Irwin was a painter, but presented works made only of string and paper collages. This Pavilion exhibition included his sombre abstract collage on wood, Midnight Hour (1964), which is now part of the British Council Collection. Using materials scavenged during night-time forages around London, such as newspapers and printed magazines, Irwin created collages like his pop art peers. He was inspired by the patterns of the north Cornish coast, transforming string into optical art tableau in the humorously-named A String of Beauty is a Toy Forever (1960).

Look inside the Pavilion during the 1960s:

Victor Pasmore's paintings hanging in the British Pavilion in 1960
Victor Pasmore's paintings in the British Pavilion in 1960 ©

British Council

Sculpture by Robert Adams in the British Pavilion in 1962
Sculpture by Robert Adams in the British Pavilion in 1962. Photo © Charles Gimpel. Courtesy of Kay Gimpel
Mixed media works by Joe Tilson hanging in the British Pavilion
Joe Tilson's work in the Pavilion in 1964 ©

British Council

A sculpture by Anthony Caro and paintings by Robyn Denny in the British Pavilion
A sculpture by Anthony Caro and paintings by Robyn Denny in the Five Young British Artists exhibition in 1966 ©

British Council


Entitled Five Young British Artists, Somerville and her committee aimed to showcase a new spirit in British painting and sculpture by bringing together an exhibition of sculptures by Anthony Caro and paintings by Bernard Cohen, Harold Cohen, Robyn Denny and Richard Smith

Caro used bold colours and striking shapes for three large steel and aluminium sculptures: Wide (1964) and Early One Morning (1962) were red, and Yellow Swing (1965) was yellow. It was this kind of work that firmly established Caro as a leading sculptor in the 1960s and helped him to win the David E. Bright Foundation Prize for a sculptor under 45.

The exhibition also featured Bernard Cohen’s Op Art White Plant (1965), now part of the Berardo Collection in Portugal, and his brother Harold Cohen’s abstract paintings, including Vigil Completed (1966).

Denny was inspired by geometric styles, showing a series of symmetrical architectural paintings that looked like large doors, such as Tate’s First Light (1965-66).

The influences of American abstraction and Pop Art were clear in Smith’s huge 3-D painting Gift Wrap (1963), now part of the Tate’s collection. Smith went on to win the Mr and Mrs Robert C. Scull Prize for a non-American artist under 35.


Bringing the sixties to visually striking finish was a joint exhibition by painter and Op art pioneer Bridget Riley together with sculptor Phillip King.

A student of Caro and an assistant of Moore, King presented powerful forms like the plastic sculpture Genghis Khan (1963), the green and red cone, Through (1965) and Brake (1966), the latter of which is now part of the British Council Collection.

Riley’s wall-based works stood up to these commanding sculptures as she had recently introduced colour into her paintings of vertical stripes and wave like-curves, such as Chant II and Cataract III (both 1967). The show received international acclaim and she won the Biennale’s International Painting Prize.

Somerville was again Commissioner in 1968 when the selection committee had welcomed new art world experts: Director of Tate Norman Reid, art historian Alan Bowness and art collector David Thompson. 

Further information

You can read Britain at the Venice Biennale 1895-1995. Published by the British Council, 1995. Edited by Sophie Bowness and Clive Phillpot.