• The Leslie Waddington Collecti auction at Christies

    Sale 14175

    The Leslie Waddington Collection

    4 October 2016, London, King Street

  • Lot 32

    Barry Flanagan (1941-2009)

    Unicorn

    Estimate

    Barry Flanagan (1941-2009)
    Unicorn
    gilded bronze
    26 x 28 x 9 3/8 in. (66 x 71 x 23.8 cm.)
    Conceived in 1982, this work is number one from an edition of seven plus one artist's cast


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    ‘The release of fantasy and a sense of inviting the spectator to collude in believing in something as preposterous as a gilded Unicorn, insists on the life-expanding possibilities of art as an arena for an unleashed human imagination still tied by an invisible umbilical cord to the innocence of childhood’ - M. Livingstone

    When Barry Flanagan attended the 1979 exhibition The Horses of San Marco at the Royal Academy, London, he was struck by the monumental equestrian statues on view, inspired to create a series of sculptures based on these classical archetypes. The beautiful set of four gilded bronze horses, known as the Triumphal Quadriga, which adorned the façade of St Mark’s Basilica in Venice, appear to be the primary inspiration for Flanagan’s Unicorn. Seized from the Hippodrome at Constantinople, the works were believed to have been part of a larger monument depicting a quadriga, a four-horse carriage used in chariot racing. In 1204 they were transported to Venice with the booty from the Fourth Crusade and placed above the main arch of the Basilica, as a symbol of victory and triumph. Apart from a brief interlude when they adorned the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, after having been looted by Napoleon in 1797, they remained on top of the Basilica until the early 1980s, when they moved to the Mariciano Museum for conservation and were replaced with copies.

    In the present work Flanagan mirrors the classical format of the majestic and imposing horses of the Triumphal Quadriga, which have continued to inspire a variety of artists from as early as the beginning of the Renaissance, from Donatello to Verrocchio and Canaletto, who cherished them as an example of neo-classical perfection. Centering his unicorn on a bronze pedestal, with one hoof raised, Flanagan follows in the lineage of classical equestrian statues, drawing on examples such as the celebrated Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius, circa 161–180 CE. By raising one hoof, Flanagan succeeds in imbuing a sense of movement and flight, which brings life and dynamism to his sculpture. The present work differs from the other casts in the edition, all of which are set on Portland stone plinths, each of which are individually carved, so that each base is unique.

    For centuries the horse has been recorded in art, celebrated across cultures as a symbol of majesty, power, gallantry, victory, wealth and fame. The relationship between the horse and rider has been a significantly poignant one, which has eclipsed all other representations of animals in art. Bonnie Engel explains its significance, ‘The horse has continued to play an integral role in human history and since the Palaeolithic era the images of the horse has been recorded and venerated through works of art…Horses became integral to human civilisation for transportation, agricultural work and warfare as well as mythological status, such as Ancient Greeks’ white, winged divine stallion Pegasus; the horse year in the Chinese zodiac; Uchchaihshravas, the Hindu seven-headed flying horse; the unicorn and the religious depictions of St George slaying the dragon on his beautiful steed’ (B. Engel, ‘For the Love of the Horse’, in The Art of the Horse, Hong Kong, 2014, pp. 17-18).

    Flanagan acknowledges this lineage of the horse in art, choosing here to focus on the mythological figure of the unicorn. This follows on from the tradition of celebrated examples such as the beautiful Medieval tapestries The Lady and the Unicorn, which hang at the Musée National du Moyen Âge, formerly known as the Musée de Cluny, in Paris. Flanagan’s decision to gild Unicorn not only pays homage to Classical bronzes, such as the Triumphal Quadrig, but also draws parallels with religious icons. He plays with the notions of contemporary art, toying with the parameters of secular and religious, mythological and concrete, but with an underlying sense of playfulness and humour.

    Special Notice

    Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.


    Provenance

    Acquired directly from the artist by Leslie Waddington.


    Literature

    E. Juncosa (ed.), Barry Flanagan: Sculpture 1965–2005, exh. cat., Dublin, Irish Museum of Modern Art and City Gallery, The Hugh Lane, 2006 (another cast illustrated, p. 80).


    Exhibited

    London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, Barry Flanagan: Sculpture, January - February 1983 (another cast exhibited).
    New York, Pace Gallery, Barry Flanagan: Recent Sculpture, October - November 1983, not numbered (another cast exhibited; illustrated on the front cover and pp. 34-35).
    Paris, British Council, Centre Georges Pompidou, Barry Flanagan: Sculptures, March - May 1983, p. 89, not numbered (illustrated in colour, p. 71).
    London, Waddington Galleries, Groups VII, January 1984, no. 37 (another cast exhibited; illustrated, p. 34).
    Tokyo, Fuji Television Gallery, Barry Flanagan, October - November 1985, no. 7 (another cast exhibited; illustrated in colour).
    Florence, Ospedale degli Innocenti, Europalia 1986: 11 European Sculptors, November 1986 - January 1987, no. 27 (another cast exhibited; illustrated, p. 93).
    Montreal, Landau Fine Art, Barry Flanagan, October - December 1992, not numbered (another cast exhibited; illustrated in colour, p. 7).
    Madrid, British Council, Fundación "la Caixa", Barry Flanagan, September - November 1993, not numbered (illustrated in colour, p. 87). This exhibition travelled to Nantes, Musée des Beaux-Arts, December 1993 - February 1994.
    Dublin, Royal Hibernian Academy, Gallagher Gallery, Barry Flanagan, February - March 1995 (another cast exhibited).