‘Thematically the choice of the hare is really quite a rich and expressive sort of model ... and on a practical level, if you consider what conveys situation and meaning and feeling in a human figure, the range of expression is in fact far more limited than the device of investing an animal - a hare especially - with the attributes of a human being. The ears, for instance, are really able to convey far more than a squint in an eye of a figure, or a grimace on the face of a model’ (B. Flanagan, interview with J. Bumpus, quoted in exhibition catalogue, Barry Flanagan: Prints 1970-1983, London, Tate Gallery, 1986, p. 15).
The image of the hare remained a constant source of artistic inspiration for Barry Flanagan from 1979 onwards, until the very end of his celebrated career in 2009. He was not only fascinated by the mystery and rich symbolism that surrounded the animal, but also by its anthropomorphic potential. Flanagan began to use the hare as a surrogate for the human form in his work, making anthropomorphism a pervasive theme throughout his sculptural oeuvre. In his notebook sketches, Flanagan experimented with the idea of transferring human qualities onto animals and he brought this idea to life with his striking bronze sculptures. The bronze hares frequently engage in human activities: they dance, they use computers, they play sports and musical instruments as we can see in the present work. In Large Troubador, conceived in 2004 at the height of Flanagan’s mature career, the viewer is confronted with the anthropomorphic magnetism of the hare. The present work demonstrates Flanagan’s unique ability to play with his audience, presenting his hares as humans so that they will ultimately be understood as humans. The artist insisted ‘The abstract realm that sculpture somehow demands is a very awkward way to work, so I abstract myself from the human figure, choosing the hare to behave as a human occasionally’ (B. Flanagan, quoted in E. Juncosa (ed.), exhibition catalogue, Barry Flanagan: Sculptures 1965-2005, Dublin, Museum of Art and City Gallery, 2006, p. 65).
In Large Troubador, the hare figure sits in a meditative pose, apparently lost in its thoughts. Behind the animal, a cello rests on the sculpture’s circular base. The instrument appears elsewhere in Flanagan’s work; in drawings and, notably, in his large ready-made sculpture, Sixties Dish, conceived in 1970 and now in the Tate collection. In the present work, the hare sits with its back to the instrument, holding the bow in hand, as if questioning its own ability as a musician. The pensive position can perhaps be understood as a nostalgic self-portrait; Flanagan himself studied the cello for a brief time at the Guildhall School of Music. Consequently, the sculpture becomes a comical and witty reference to Flanagan’s disillusionment with his own musical prowess. As Mel Gooding points out ‘Flanagan’s hares are thus the image of homo ludens, emblems of creativity and of mischievous disregard for the exercise of ratiocinative thought and for regular order. (In this sense they are self-portraits, and very like, in fact)’ (M. Gooding, ‘First Catch Your Hare: An Essaying in Four unequal Parts and a Coda, with a Salutation’, in E. Juncosa (ed.), exhibition catalogue, Barry Flanagan Sculpture: 1965-2005, Dublin, Irish Museum of Modern Art, 2006, p. 179).
In Large Troubador, Flanagan also references Auguste Rodin, the sculptural master whom he idolised. The hare’s posture mirrors that of Rodin’s universally recognised work, The Thinker. This specific pose appears repeatedly in Flanagan’s oeuvre in sculptures such as Thinker on a Rock (1997) and Large Thinker on a Computer (2003). However, Large Troubador cannot be treated as a simple homage to Rodin; Flanagan manages to pay respect to one of his favourite artists without ever succumbing to the traditions of sculptural conventions. He maintains his trademark sense of humour, dodging the weight of Rodin’s allegorical intentions, by transforming his thinkers into hares and placing them on computers or in small boats as we see in Sculler (1998). Here, the image of the Troubador becomes significant. Dating back to the 11th Century, troubadors were travelling composers and performers of lyric poetry. The words of their songs were integral to their music and were often satirical, commenting on the rigid status quo of medieval courtly life. In Large Troubador, Flanagan intentionally draws parallels between the troubador, the hare and himself as an artist and, as a result, he challenges the norms of sculptural practise.
We are very grateful to the Barry Flanagan estate for their assistance in preparing this catalogue entry.