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


Dame Elisabeth Frink, R.A. (1930-1993)
signed and numbered 'Frink 3/3' (on the base)
bronze with a black patina
101½ in. (257.8 cm.) long
Conceived in 1980 in an edition of three, plus artist's cast.
with New Art Centre, Salisbury, where acquired by Camilla Cazalet in 1988, and thence to the present owner.
B. Robertson, Elisabeth Frink Sculpture, Salisbury, 1984, pp. 112-113, 193, no. 256, another cast illustrated.
S. Kent, exhibition catalogue, Elisabeth Frink Sculpture and Drawings 1952-84, London, Royal Academy, 1985, p. 46, no. 77, another cast illustrated.
Exhibition catalogue, Elisabeth Frink sculptures, graphic works, textiles, in accordance with Elisabeth Frink: a certain unexpectedness, Salisbury, Salisbury Cathedral and Close, 1997, p. 59, no. 49, another cast illustrated.
E. Lucie-Smith & E. Frink, Elisabeth Frink A Portrait, London, 1994, p. 99, another cast illustrated.
A. Boström (ed.), The Fran and Ray Stark Collection of 20th-Century Sculpture at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, 2008, pp. 74-77, no. 7.
A. Ratuszniak (ed.), Elisabeth Frink Catalogue Raisonné of Sculpture 1947-93, Farnham, 2013, p. 146, no. FCR290, another cast illustrated.
London, Royal Academy, Elisabeth Frink Sculpture and Drawings 1952-1984, February - March 1985, no. 77, another cast exhibited.
Salisbury, Salisbury Cathedral and Close, Elisabeth Frink: a certain unexpectedness, May - June 1997, no. 49, another cast exhibited.

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Lot Essay

‘I am quite interested in horses, not obsessed with them in a social sense, but interested in the form that they embody, in their wild state and their relationship with man’ (Elisabeth Frink)

Horse, 1980, is one of the finest equestrian sculptures that Frink created within her oeuvre. Initially commissioned by the Earl of March for Goodwood Racecourse, Sussex, a further cast is also in the collection of the Getty Center in Los Angeles, gifted by Fran and Ray Stark. Large horse sculptures are cast in small editions so are much rarer to come to auction than other works.

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 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 Paleolithic era the images of the horse have 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).

Elisabeth Frink's affection for the horse stemmed from her childhood growing up in the countryside of Suffolk. Her father was a skilled horseman, a good polo player and an amateur jockey and she too, aged four, began to ride. This enthusiasm for horses grew with her move to the South of France in 1967, where she lived for six years, where horses and boars could be seen living in the wild. It was here, in the late 1960s, that Frink began creating her sculptures of horses. This interest pursued her throughout her life, with Frink later settling in Dorset, after her marriage to Alex Csáky in 1974, where she was surrounded by domesticated and wild animals, including horses, which she continued to ride.

Her earliest drawings, even before she attended Chelsea School of Art in 1949, spoke of her interest in horses, depicting riders, apocalyptic horses and fallen men. Indeed the subject of the horse, often paired with a male rider, was a theme she would explore throughout her career, becoming one of her most celebrated and beloved subjects. Her first recordings of horses stand in contrast to the hopeful and idealised image of the racing horse, as seen in the present work, and are tinged with the impressions of war. Although brought up in the safety of the English countryside, her father was a soldier in Dunkirk, and with her family living near to an airfield in Suffolk she would sometimes see the bombers return to the base in flames. Also, as a young child she was subject to the gunfire of a German fighter plane, from which she sheltered in a hedgerow. These experiences left a lasting impression on Frink, whose works can often be tinged with a sense of pathos, in particular her male figures. She also created the stoic War Horse, 1991, which was based on her friend Michael Morpurgo’s story of a horse on the battlefields of the First World War, who quietly stood wounded amongst the turmoil of human warfare.

In the present work, Horse, Frink depicts the physical agility and animated spirit of the racehorse. Life size, Frink accurately captures the strength and speed of the racehorse, emphasised through its muscular body, long extended neck and delicate legs, which she depicts in motion, giving a wonderful sense of dynamism to the work. This is complemented by the horse’s pricked ears and alert posture. Although the sculpture is naturalistic in form, Frink never intended to create an exact likeness but instead strove to capture the characteristics of the animal. She was also unafraid to highlight the materiality of her material, using series of striations and incisions in the subject, to create a wonderfully textured and animated surface. Annette Downing wrote, ‘She conveyed her ideas in almost abstract terms through her sculptural rendering of movement, tension, form and, latterly, colour’ (A. Downing, ‘A certain unexpectedness’ in exhibition catalogue, Elisabeth Frink sculptures, graphic works, textiles, Salisbury, Salisbury Library and Galleries, 1997, p. 22). It is recorded that 'Frink proudly recalled overhearing two construction workers who, upon entering Goodwood and seeing her sculpture Horse, remarked, "He's so alert, isn't he?".

Frink describes her process in the following way: “I use chicken-wire, and hessian soaked in plaster, which gives a good surface to build on, and then I just pile more plaster on with my hands. I often use sawdust and stuff mixed up with plaster, which gives a much more gritty texture.” Her proclivity for rough, deeply distressed bronze surfaces issues from her observation that the light in England, where she lived and worked all her life, is far more “soft and diffuse” than in continental Europe. So, while a French sculptor, for example, might create dramatic surface shadows using only shallow incisions, Frink felt the soft light of England did not yield such effects as easily: to counteract this problem she worked her plaster models more deeply and forcefully to ensure an animate surface when the work was viewed outside. Frink’s working process was extremely labour intensive' (A. Boström, The Fran and Ray Stark Collection of 20th-Century Sculpture at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 2008).

Monumental in form, Horse is a striking example of Frink’s finest work. One of the strengths of Frink’s art was its accessibility, with her work being both modern and relatable. Frink noted that this was an important factor in her work, stating, ‘I think what I am doing is trying to set up a kind of encounter with the spectator, a dialogue between my sculptures and the public. People have to add part of themselves to make it work: they have to look into it as well as at it’ (Frink quoted in ibid., p. 25). Frink ignored the pressures of the period to move towards abstraction and continued to work in the figurative idiom throughout her life. This dedication to her unique and individual aesthetic has granted her works a sense of timelessness and an endurance, as seen in the present work, which has established her as one of the finest and most significant British sculptors of the 20th Century.

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