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3 April 2019

Modern and Contemporary Art

Lot 212

Denis Mitchell (British 1912-1993) Zagcone

Estimate £8000 - £12000 + fees

Sold Price £12000

Denis Mitchell (British 1912-1993)


Portland stone

Height: 50cm.

Executed in 1974, this work is unique and one of the only few works produced in Portland stone.


Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner in May 1975


London, Marjorie Parr gallery, October 1974

St. Ives, Tate Gallery, Ascending Forms (with Wilhelmina Barns-Graham), January-May 2005

St. Ives, Tate Gallery, Gabo Hepworth Mitchell, January-May 2010

Denis Mitchell grew up in South Wales but moved to Cornwall in 1930 at the age of 18 where he was to remain for the rest of his life. He settled first in St. Ives where the heady artistic energy proved an enduring inspiration. Initially drawn to painting, he worked at a series of jobs whilst always pursuing his artistic ambitions. During the war years, Mitchell worked at the Geever tin mine near Lands End and this experience of working with his hands and manipulating the stone was to change the course of his life. When the potter Bernard Leach suggested his name to Barbara Hepworth as a potential assistant, he was not only to become a trusted companion to one of the greatest sculptors of the twentieth century, but he would also develop his own successful career. Mitchell worked with Hepworth for ten years between 1949 and 1959 and under her mentorship, he grew in confidence. His first sculptures were in wood with his first bronze in 1959.

Due to the high cost of working in bronze, Mitchell could only afford to use a sand-casting foundry in St. Just. The process allowed for only very simple shapes to be cast and resulted in an economy of form which, in hindsight, honed Mitchells skills and set him on a path to purity of form for which his work is known. Whatever the medium, Mitchells sculptures tend to incorporate just one principle form, stretching and curving upwards into the space. They are an expertly judged balance between space and form, between line and mass and their sleek polished exteriors belie their material weight.

From his base in St. Ives, Mitchell was always at the centre of the Cornish abstract movement surrounded by artists that have since become icons of 20th century British Art Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson, Terry Frost, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, Bryan Wynter, Peter Lanyon and Patrick Heron to name but a few. As Mitchells success grew, he found his St. Ives studio too small and opted instead to share a studio with another friend and artist, John Wells, across the Penwith peninsula in Newlyn. In 1969, he moved his family and settled permanently in the town and it was here that much of his most successful work was produced. Mitchell continued to work and exhibit right up until his death at the age of 80 in 1993.

Zagcone dates from 1974 and is one of a few unique works produced in Portland stone.


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