We are delighted to be able to offer property from the Estate of Jean Marsden (Lots 14-33) in our Modern & Contemporary Art auction on 15 March, which includes an important collection of eleven works by Dame Elisabeth Frink. Here Head of Sale, Francesca Whitham, shares some insights into this special collection, including Standing Horse, the last sculpture Frink made before she passed away in 1993; and Dog, a bronze which was commissioned to be sold in aid of Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children.
Elisabeth Frink was directly influenced by her childhood experiences. She grew up in rural Suffolk exploring the countryside adventuring amongst the beauty in nature full of animals and birds. These naturalistic subjects were to serve as core inspiration throughout her career. However, this idyllic childhood was set against the backdrop of war.
~ Elisabeth Frink, 1994.
Her father was a soldier who fought at Dunkirk. She saw him as a very heroic figure and was to influence her studies of the male figure and character.
Growing up Frink lived near an RAF air base during the Second World War. Frink witnessed acts of brutality bombers fighting in the skies, planes crashing into nearby fields, wounded soldiers. These early experiences would merge to influence themes throughout her career.
Aggression, masculinity, Fear, heroism, humanity, nature, tension, motion and flight
Frink worked alone, never using assistants until her final months due to her dwindling health and subsequent strength. Frink modelled with wet plaster of paris building it up with strips of cloth, wood, card all twisted and entwined around a structure of metal rods and wire. As it dried Frink would use a chisel to etch into the surface and from the desired shape, adding more wet plaster along the way to build layers on the surface. The piece would then be cast in bronze.
~ Hilton Kramer, 1979.
Lot 15, Bird, 1959 (FCR67) stands uprights on human-like legs. The wings are stunted clipped in at the sides. If one starts to consider the human attributes that could be attached to this work you can start to see a character pacing, a furrowed brow, deep concentration. And yet the strong beak is clearly animalistic. The bird is prepared in stance to snatch the prey and fight for survival in the wild.
Lot 20 derives from Frink’s initial study of the eagle and its anatomy of movement. Frink created a series of ‘Standard’ forms which captured an eagle perched on a tall pedestal in various stages of movement such as preparing to launch, shaking of their feathers or raising their head to cry out. Each piece encapsulates the attributes of the shifting motions of an eagle through varying forms of abstraction whilst some illustrate precise details including claws, beaks and wings.
Lot 17 is a maquette for Frink’s 1962 commission for Manchester Airport. The full scale bronze is dedicated to aviators John Alcock and Arthur Brown, who made the first non-stop transatlantic flight in June 1919. Similar to the tall ‘Birdman’ sculpture of 1960, the work also forms part of a series of bronzes inspired by photographs of French adventurer Leo Valentin.
Valentin attempted to achieve flight by strapping bird-like wings to his arms but ultimately fell to a dramatic death at an airshow in Liverpool in 1956 in front of 100,000 people. News of the accident, along with photographs, was widely published in the press. The images resonated with Frink whose experience during the war meant that she already had a preoccupation with flight along with a fear of heights. The sculptures she produced as a result depict figures falling sometimes at the point of impact with the ground. Others, like the present work, depict the incongruous marriage of man and bird, the unlikely form struggling to attain flight, hindered by its short wings with legs flailing behind, and yet rising in spite of itself. We are captured by the sense of freedom, the feeling of weightlessness and a hovering moment in time.
Frink was inspired to experiment with the use of colour following a trip to Australia in 1986. She was mesmerised by the vast desert landscape and the rich colours of the earth which were so different to that of the UK. Firstly, Frink tried painting on bronze but found that the technique didn’t weather well. Ken Cook, who helped cast her sculptures for over 30 years, introduced Frink to the possibilities of colour patination. The present lot cast in 1988 showcases her experimentation with rich green hues.
The topic of man’s best friend was explored by Frink during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Whilst dogs and their relationship with man had always fascinated the artist it was during her time spent at her home at Woolland in Dorset that sparked the inspiration for this series. Alex Csaky, Frink’s husband owned Hungarian gun-dogs and it was these majestic hounds whose strong muscular build and smooth coats could be transferred to sculpture. What is particularly striking is the way in which Frink captures the personality and character of the dog. We feel a sense of affection as the dog focuses outwards, sniffing the air with wide eyes looking expectantly at his master. The sculpture is solid, weighted – emphasising a sense of loyalty representing the concrete relationship between man and dog.
~ Elisabeth Frink, 1991.
This relationship between humanity and nature preoccupied her practice and she explored the interdependence between humans and domestic animals. Frink had a good understanding of a horse’s anatomy but here we are faced with a simple depiction of a strong standing form, capturing the essence of the animal rather than a realist depiction. Horses not only held a sentimental place in Frink’s heart but came to represent her exploration of nature and humanity. She spoke about the many horses that had aided man by leading them into battle or ploughing fields, helping to sustain man over thousands of years. The horse came to represent a symbol of reliance in Frink’s work.
Wednesday 15 March | 10.30am GMT
Donnington Priory, Newbury, Berkshire RG14 2JE
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