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Dame Elisabeth Frink, R.A. (1930-1993)
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Dame Elisabeth Frink, R.A. (1930-1993)

Walking Madonna

Dame Elisabeth Frink, R.A. (1930-1993)
Walking Madonna
signed 'Frink' (on the base) and stamped with foundry mark 'BURLEIGHFIELD/ENGLAND' (on the edge of the base)
bronze with a brown/black patina
80 in. (203.2 cm.) high
Conceived in 1981 and cast in an edition of three.
with Waddington Galleries, Toronto, 1987, where purchased by the present owner with funds provided by Benjamin D. Bernstein.

T. Mullaly, ‘The Magnetism of Frink’, Daily Telegraph, 15 June 1981.
I. Mayes, ‘Elisabeth Frink’, The Birmingham Post, 24 June 1981, p. 4.
B. Robertson (intro.), Elisabeth Frink Sculpture Catalogue Raisonné, Salisbury, 1984, p. 195, no. 263, another cast illustrated.
S. Kent, exhibition catalogue, Elisabeth Frink: Sculpture and Drawings 1952-84, London, Royal Academy, 1985, pp. 25-26, another cast illustrated.
N. Cameron, exhibition catalogue, Elisabeth Frink: Sculpture & Drawings, Hong Kong, The Rotunda, Exchange Square, Hong Kong Festival, 1989, n.p, another cast illustrated.
E. Lucie-Smith, Frink: A Portrait, London, 1994, p. 113, another cast illustrated.
A. Downing, exhibition catalogue, Elisabeth Frink sculptures, graphic works, textiles, in accordance with Elisabeth Frink: a certain unexpectedness, Salisbury, Salisbury Cathedral Close, 1997, pp. 67, 70, no. 53, another cast illustrated on the cover.
S. Gardiner, Frink: The Official Biography of Elisabeth Frink, London, 1998, pp. 187, 217, 224, 226-227, 229-230, 239, 243-244, 270, another cast illustrated.
Exhibition catalogue, The Shape of the Century: 100 Years of Sculpture in Britain, Salisbury, Salisbury Cathedral Close and City, 1999, pp. 1, 70, exhibition not numbered, another cast illustrated.
A. Goodchild (ed.), Catalogue of the Ingram Collection of Modern British Art, Woking, 2009, p. 42, another cast illustrated.
A. Ratuszniak (ed.), Elisabeth Frink, Catalogue Raisonné of Sculpture 1947-93, London, 2013, pp. 148-149, no. FCR299, another cast illustrated.
Winchester, Great Courtyard, Elisabeth Frink: Sculpture in Winchester, July - September 1981, exhibition not numbered, another cast exhibited.
London, Waddington Galleries, Elisabeth Frink: Recent Sculpture, Works on Paper, June 1981, ex-catalogue, another cast exhibited.
Salisbury, Salisbury Cathedral Close, Elisabeth Frink: a certain unexpectedness, May - June 1997, no. 53, another cast exhibited.
Salisbury, Salisbury Cathedral Close and City, Salisbury Festival, The Shape of the Century: 100 Years of Sculpture in Britain, May - August 1999, exhibition not numbered, another cast exhibited: this exhibition travelled to London, Canary Wharf, September - October 1999; Bath, Beaux Arts; and London, Beaux Arts.
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William Porter

Lot Essay

‘Without question her greatest achievement for a standing figure’ (S. Gardiner, Frink: The Official Biography of Elisabeth Frink, London, 1998, p. 217).

Conceived in 1981 at Frink’s studio at Woolland House in Dorset, the present work is a wonderful and uniquely surprising example of Frink’s work around an ecclesiastical theme. Within Frink’s oeuvre, this sculpture is an unusual exception to her preference for working with the male nude, depicting instead, the Madonna: captured mid-pace, and executed with such sensitivity that it has been described as ‘without question her greatest achievement for a standing figure’ (S. Gardiner, Frink: The Official Biography of Elisabeth Frink, London, 1998, p. 217). Despite being such an extraordinarily singular example of the artist’s sculpture, the work still translates Frink’s remarkable ability to capture movement in static bronze, using exceptionally simple means.

This representation of the Madonna is unusual in that it depicts the mother of Christ to contrast with the iconographic Renaissance images of her that art history is so accustomed to. Raphael’s Madonna del Granduca, presents Mary as the majestic matriarch, gently cradling the angelic Christ Child, a devotional image for worshippers to look to for guidance by providing a visual lesson in purity. Frink, whose early artistic talents were recognised at the Convent art classes she took in childhood, would have been familiar with this central icon of the Church, but spoke openly in her adult life about drifting from Catholicism. When considering the subject, she said ‘I’m not sure whether it is religion that is important to me or religious subjects … I do believe in something’ (E. Frink, interviewed by N. Rosenthal, in S. Kent, exhibition catalogue, Another View: The Sculpture of Elisabeth Frink, London, Royal Academy, 1985, p. 25). The central ideas of religion therefore held a deeply fascinating and personal connection to the artist, but rather than work with traditional ideas of religious iconography, she was enticed by a strong sense of faith.

Art critic Terence Mullaly believes that Walking Madonna ‘is one of the few genuinely religious works of art of our time. Strength, the tragedy of us all and pathos are encapsulated in bronze’ (T. Mullaly, ‘The Magnetism of Frink’, Daily Telegraph, 15 June 1981). Next to other religious sculpture, however, this work is decidedly disparate. Michelangelo’s The Madonna of Bruges for instance, emphasises Mary’s maternal role; carved fluidly, the folds of her shawls effortlessly envelop her child. Frink mentions the trouble that modelling her Madonna’s clothing caused: ‘Doing the drapery was very difficult. But it was a fascinating job’ (E. Frink, quoted in E. Lucie-Smith, Frink: A Portrait, London, 1994, p. 113). The use of sackcloth to form the plaster cast gives the form a coarse, rugged texture and the surface of the bronze is distinctly slashed and worked upon by Frink’s recognisable chisel and surform technique. With sharp limbs protruding through this rough robe, Walking Madonna contrasts with Michelangelo’s pristine curvaceous femininity: The Saint’s clothing clinging to her emaciated frame.

Frink’s Mary stands, still reeling in the aftermath of the Crucifixion. She is rough and weathered, her face, with its aquiline nose so remarkably like Frink’s own, wears an expression of pain and hopelessness, and her bowed head plumbing the depths of human emotion. Drained of her bright renaissance colours the Madonna appears haggard: a tragic figure of pathos. Themes of tragedy and apocalypse are strong in Frink’s early work, often suggested as stemming from her experiences as a child during the Second World War, faced with the threat of bombings and other haunting horrors that had a lasting impact on her, feelings which are perhaps manifested once more in later work. In her Tribute Heads series for instance, recognisable busts with roughly hewn features; strong jaws and prominent chins so like Walking Madonna, respond to human rights issues; signaling perseverance in the face of persecution (S. Gardiner, Frink: The Official Biography of Elisabeth Frink, London, 1998, p. 205). Also gaunt and ghostly, this Madonna cuts a solemn figure, suffering silently against the elements.

Despite the austerity of the work, the Madonna’s pose promises grim resistance. Although suffering, she is captured mid-stride, stepping off her plinth and optimistically moving forward. Another cast of Walking Madonna has stood outside Salisbury Cathedral since 1981, causing controversy with its placement by facing away from the cathedral, stepping out into the world. In the words of the Dean of Salisbury Cathedral, however, the work is important for its power to symbolise ‘human dignity and creativity over militarism and totalitarian disregard of human dignity and rights…’ (S. Gardiner, ibid., p. 227). Although she stands alone, she stands tall and strong, with the posture of one who will not be defeated, transcending the cultural implications of the title of the work, representing all tenacious women. Positioned on a low plinth, the Madonna stands at our level, acting – in true iconographic style – as an example to follow: overcoming suffering with grim persistence. Frink’s Madonna has the extraordinary ability to celebrate the spiritual power of humanity against adversity.

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