Dame Elisabeth Frink, R.A. (1930-1993)
PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE SWISS COLLECTION
Dame Elisabeth Frink, R.A. (1930-1993)

Eagle Lectern

Details
Dame Elisabeth Frink, R.A. (1930-1993)
Eagle Lectern
signed 'FRINK' (on the right side of the tail) and inscribed 'ARCHITECTS COPY' (on the left side of the tail)
bronze with a dark brown patina
58 in. (147.3 cm.) high, including salvaged stone base
Conceived in 1962 and cast in an edition of five.
Provenance
Sir Basil Spence, and by descent.
Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 9 June 2000, lot 68, where purchased by the present owner.
Literature
B. Spence, Phoenix at Coventry, London, 1962, pp. 103-104, pl. 43, another cast illustrated.
B. Spence and H. Snoek, Out of the Ashes A Progress through Coventry Cathedral, London, 1962, pl. 30, another cast illustrated.
H.C.N. Williams, The pictorial guide to Coventry Cathedral, consecrated 25th May 1962, London, 1962, p. 11, another cast illustrated.
E. Mullins, The Art of Elisabeth Frink, London, 1972, n.p., no. 36, another cast illustrated.
B. Robertson, Elisabeth Frink Sculpture, Salisbury, 1984, p. 155, no. 88, another cast illustrated.
Exhibition catalogue, To Build a Cathedral, Warwick, City University, 1987, p. 64, nos. 144-145, another cast illustrated.
E. Lucie-Smith and E. Frink, Frink A Portrait, London, 1994, pp. 94-95, plaster cast illustrated.
L. Campbell, Coventry Cathedral, London, 1996, pp. 235-236, pl. 171, another cast illustrated.
S. Gardiner, Elisabeth Frink The Official Biography, London, 1998, p. 111, another cast illustrated.
A. Ratuszniak, Elisabeth Frink, Catalogue Raisonné of Sculpture 1947-93, London, 2013, p. 83, no. FCR109, another cast illustrated.

Brought to you by

William Porter
William Porter

Lot Essay

Sir Basil Spence, the architect of the new Coventry Cathedral, commissioned the young Elisabeth Frink to produce a sculpture of an eagle for the lectern at the cathedral. The architect recalls: ‘One of the last things to be designed was the pulpit and the lectern … the lectern had to have a traditional Eagle. Elisabeth Frink, that gifted sculptress, was to my mind an obvious choice. She designed and carried out a magnificent bird which looks as if it has just settled there after a long flight. She modelled direct in plaster and by inserting ordinary kindling in the standard six-inch lengths gave the effect of feathers. These can easily be seen in the bronze casting’ (S. Gardiner, Elisabeth Frink, London, 1998, pp. 82, 111-112). This request and the subsequent meetings between the architect and the sculptor served as a catalyst for other commissions, including the bishop's mitre above the throne, and the symbol of the Holy Spirit in the form of a flame over the provost's stall.

For the twenty-eight-year-old Frink, this was an extraordinary opportunity not only to create an artwork for a landmark preserving the memory of the Second World War, but also for her sculptures to be displayed alongside works by established artists such as Graham Sutherland, John Piper and Sir Jacob Epstein. According to Frink herself, the final piece cast in bronze with a gold patina was one of her finest works. Among the multiple architectural and decorative elements adorning this new architectural space, such as Sutherlands large scale Christ in Glory tapestry and the colourful baptistry windows designed by Piper, for many it was the lectern that immediately stood out and captured the eye of the beholder. According to Stephen Gardiner, ‘her Eagle, so powerful that it transformed the lectern into an object of true magnificence, was a match for any of them, having the sense of scale which Epstein's St Michael and the Devil has to such an extraordinary extent outside’ (ibid.).

Embodying the imagery of speed and flight, the Eagle with its four-foot wing-span is a reflection of power and majesty. Having experienced a wartime childhood, Frink had seen from her Suffolk home numerous military and air force personnel. This inspired her to study birds of prey, a theme which proved to be a fertile area of exploration for the sculptor throughout her career. However, on this occasion rather than presenting the Eagle as an aggressor, Frink captures its heroic nature and instead highlights its symbolic association with courage and strength. This resonates with the new modernist Cathedral rapidly becoming a hugely popular symbol of reconciliation in post-war Britain. Reflecting on the sculpture, Stephen Gardiner comments: ‘here was a conception of sheer daring, the strength of a single statement, its immense size displaying a clear recognition of the vast space in which the work is located. She had no failure of nerve when faced with such a challenge, which would have been perfectly understandable in the circumstances; there was not the slightest hint of indecision, a conviction which marked her out as a creator of real stature’ (ibid.).

The Eagle was conceived in 1962 and cast in an edition of five. One of the five casts of Eagle was purchased by the Washington State Department for President John Kennedy's Memorial in Dallas, Texas in 1964.

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