Our Modern and Contemporary Art auction on 12 October, features a fantastic selection of Modern British Sculpture. Amongst the highlights are two bronze sculptures by British sculptor Dame Elisabeth Frink (1930-1993). These works were exhibited at The Everard Read Gallery in Johannesburg, South Africa, before they were purchased by a private collector.
First we take a look at Lot 29, this bronze with a brown patina, titled 'Pilgrim', which was conceived by Frink in 1983.
In 1984, Frink explained in her catalogue raisonne, ‘What I have tried to make clear in my sculptures for the last five years is the way in which feeling, expression, even force and energy, should be below the surface. The outer skin may define more or less conventional features, but with a second look should indicate the complex strain of nerve-endings and the anticipatory reflexes of something about to happen.’
After studying at Guildford School of Art in 1947, Frink enrolled at the Chelsea School of Art under the tutelage of Julian Trevelyan, Ceri Richards and John Berger. Immersing herself in this creative environment Frink began experimenting in plaster creating sculptures of men and animals. Her early works caught the attention of ‘The Geometry of Fear’ sculptors who included Lynn Chadwick and Kenneth Armitage. Frink became associated with this group who had been labelled by the art critic Herbert Read.
Frink soon became known for her strong depictions of male figures. These sculptures encapsulated both the heroism and fragility of man. Her childhood experience growing up during the first world war was to have a great impact on her work. Frink’s father was an officer in the 7th Dragoon Guards and she spent her childhood growing up near an airbase in Suffolk. Numerous air raids and crashes exposed Frink to an enormity of brutality and bloodshed which invoked fear, experiences which came to be reflected in her sculptures.
Her sculptures embodied strong, purposeful and athletic men usually shown in a stance of standing, walking or running. However, the outer layer with his textured surface reveals a more vulnerable side to the bronzes, described as exposed flesh. The vacant facial expressions and moments of movement caught in time represent the shell shock and effects of war over time, crossing this bridge between heroism and vulnerability.
Pilgrim sculpted in 1983 captures this strength of the male form. His feet firmly on the ground the ‘pilgrim’ makes no advance frozen in a moment of time. The work is from a series of 8 editions and a similar composition can be found in Shepherd and Sheep (FCR317) also created in 1983 which shows a similar figure, but with the addition of a flock of sheep and a crook in the figure’s right hand.
We then have Lot 30, this work 'Small Dog', which was created a few years later in 1986. Also made with bronze with a brown patina, the sculpture stands at 24x28cm.
~ Elisabeth Frink, quoted in Edward Lucie-Smith and Elisabeth Frink, Frink: A portrait, Bloomsbury, London, 1994, p. 50
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. In the same year that Small Dog (FCR358) was created Frink produced Large Dog (FCR355) a life-size study of the Hungarian Vizsla. What is particularly striking is the characterful face, wide eyes and large nose which captures the charming features of ‘man’s best friend’, as the dog appears to look up towards the viewer almost in awe of its owner.
During this same period Frink visited Leonardo Da Vinci’s Chateau de Cloux. At the entrance to the chateau are two stone dogs, awaiting the return of their master. These two sculptures inspired Frink who created life-size versions titled Leonardo’s Dog I and Leonardo’s Dog II in 1991 and 1992 respectively.
Small Dog (FCR 358) has the same charming facial features, with its ears pushed back and its glossy smooth coat worked into the surface of the enchanting sculpture. Frink was unapologetic for her interest in dogs whilst others around her were producing pieces for the esoteric . Frink’s Dog series was not made to be scrutinised and nor did they open discussion of critical interpretation. They developed a direct engagement with the public by producing a subject matter she was interested in.
Tuesday 12 October | 10.30am BST
Donnington Priory, Newbury, Berkshire RG14 2JE
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