William Turnbull (1922-2012)
Prospective purchasers are advised that several co… Read more PROPERTY FROM AN AMERICAN COLLECTION
William Turnbull (1922-2012)

Khan

Details
William Turnbull (1922-2012)
Khan
signed with monogram and dated '61' (on the reverse of the bronze)
bronze, rosewood and stone, unique
61 in. (154.9 cm.) high
Provenance
with Marlborough Gallery, New York, 1981, where purchased by the present owner.
Literature
Exhibition catalogue, Turnbull, New York, Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, 1963, n.p., no. 6, incorrectly dated as '1962', illustrated and on the front cover.
Exhibition catalogue, William Turnbull: Sculpture and Painting Retrospective, London, Tate Gallery, 1973, pp. 41, 68, no. 52, illustrated, incorrectly dated as '1962'.
Exhibition catalogue, William Turnbull: Bronze Idols and Untitled Paintings, London, Serpentine Gallery, 1995, pp. 44, 68, illustrated.
A.A. Davidson, The Sculpture of William Turnbull, Much Hadham, 2005, p. 117, no. 114, , incorrectly dated as '1962', illustrated.
Exhibited
New York, Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, Turnbull, October 1963, no. 6, incorrectly dated as '1962'.
London, Tate Gallery, William Turnbull: Sculpture and Painting Retrospective, August - October 1973, no. 52, incorrectly dated as '1962'.
Special notice

Prospective purchasers are advised that several countries prohibit the importation of property containing materials from endangered species, including but not limited to coral, ivory and tortoiseshell. Accordingly, prospective purchasers should familiarize themselves with relevant customs regulations prior to bidding if they intend to import this lot into another country.
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.
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This lot will be removed to Christie’s Park Royal. Christie’s will inform you if the lot has been sent offsite. Our removal and storage of the lot is subject to the terms and conditions of storage which can be found at Christies.com/storage and our fees for storage are set out in the table below - these will apply whether the lot remains with Christie’s or is removed elsewhere. Please call Christie’s Client Service 24 hours in advance to book a collection time at Christie’s Park Royal. All collections from Christie’s Park Royal will be by pre-booked appointment only. Tel: +44 (0)20 7839 9060 Email: cscollectionsuk@christies.com. If the lot remains at Christie’s it will be available for collection on any working day 9.00 am to 5.00 pm. Lots are not available for collection at weekends.

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William Porter

Lot Essay

‘By 1957 Turnbull, then in his mid-thirties, was beginning to be acknowledged as one of the finest artist’s of his generation. His work was, however, difficult to place. It did not belong to a particular group or stylistic tendency and it looked modern and old, figurative and abstract, at the same time’ (P. Elliott, ‘William Turnbull: A Consistent Way of Thinking’, exhibition catalogue, William Turnbull: Bronze Idols and Untitled Paintings, London, Serpentine Gallery, 1995, p. 44).

‘I have always been very interested in metamorphosis. Ambiguity can give the image a wide frame of reference … It creates cross-reference between something that looks like an object and that looks like an image. For me making sculpture there is always that tension between the sculpture as object and the sculpture as image’ (W. Turnbull in conversation with C. Renfrew, 6 May 1998, exhibition catalogue, William Turnbull sculpture and paintings, London, Waddington Galleries, 1998, p. 5).

Khan, 1961, derives from a period in the late 1950s and early 1960s when Turnbull explored upright totemic forms built from two or more stacked elements of varying materials, namely stone, wood and bronze, as seen here. Turnbull explained that he liked ‘the emotional contrast set off by combining bronze, wood and stone’ stating, ‘just bronze, and more bronze everywhere is becoming a bore’ (W. Turnbull, quoted in A.A. Davidson, The Sculpture of William Turnbull, Much Hadham, 2005, p. 49). The textured bronze pieces, delineated with striations and gestural marks, which preoccupied his sculptural work pre-1959, now gave way to smoother surfaces and more rounded forms, as is present in the bronze element of Khan. As seen here Turnbull intervened very little with his materials, deploying minimal carving to the stone and wood, preferring instead to find materials that were already naturally shaped in interesting ways, delighting in the naturally contrasting tones and surfaces of his different mediums.

Turnbull followed Paul Klee’s philosophy that art should allow for the element of chance and the unconscious to submerge one's work and that art should be a natural, non-formulaic process. Therefore by working in this manner, where the materials governed the outcome of the work, there was an increased element of chance, removing pre-established ideas of composition. In the article ‘Images without temples’ published in Living Arts, no. 1, 1963, Turnbull explained that his totems ‘are assembled from components that are often complete in themselves. It is an additive process, adding to make richer. I permutate the components to show they are not absolute’ (W. Turnbull, quoted in ibid., p. 49). This is supported by Amanda A. Davidson who stated, ‘Each element is distinct and contrasted by the combinations. The combination totemic figures used natural balance wherever possible, and were stacked in a random manner, through a visual process and developed by trial and error’ (ibid., p. 49).

Patrick Elliott relates works of this period, such as Khan, to the work of Constantin Brancusi, whose studio Turnbull had visited while living in Paris from 1948-50. He stated, ‘Giacometti had been Turnbull’s most important point of reference from the late 1940s, but the multi-part works of the late 1950s [and early 1960s] are closer in spirit to the work of Brancusi … As in Brancusi’s work, the traditional division between sculpture and base is eliminated: it is not possible to say where the base stops and where the sculpture begins because the two are united’ (P. Elliott, ‘William Turnbull: A Consistent Way of Thinking’, exhibition catalogue, William Turnbull: Bronze Idols and Untitled Paintings, London, Serpentine Gallery, 1995, p. 49).

What stands out in Turnbull’s work, and in particular pieces made in the early 1960s, such as Khan, is Turnbull’s interest in the ancient, historical and mystical. Since his days as a student at the Slade, Turnbull developed a keen interest in non-Western art, rejecting the Renaissance stance that classical Greek sculpture was to be the sculptor’s ultimate paragon. Preferring instead the various forms of archaic or primitive sculpture, such as the carvings from Egypt, the Cyclades and Archaic Greek sculptures. This interest in the art of other civilisations, both ancient and contemporary, was supported by the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), which he joined after his return from Paris in 1950 and was intensified by his marriage to Singaporean sculptor Kim Lim in 1960 and their subsequent travel together to Japan, Cambodia, Malaysia and Singapore in 1962, the year after Khan was conceived. Turnbull spoke of his early enthusiasm for non-Western art, citing the British Museum as a key source of inspiration, as it was for other sculptors of the day, such as Henry Moore:

‘I went a lot to the British Museum when I came to London. The British Museum has always been my museum, more than the National Gallery. I just thought it was the most extraordinary place … they are like archeological sites. And I think I have always felt in a sense that the further back the exhibits were, the more modern they looked. I am always amazed how objects that are three thousand, four thousand or more years old can look as if they were done much more recently than things made fifty or sixty years ago. This way they can jump right through time. To be able to look at objects without hierarchy, without feeling that this one is higher, more developed than that one, this is very refreshing’ (W. Turnbull in conversation with C. Renfrew, 6 May 1998, exhibition catalogue, William Turnbull sculpture and paintings, London, Waddington Galleries, 1998, p. 7).

What spoke to Turnbull was the inner power of these ancient artworks, which instilled a sense of monumentality, regardless of their scale. Turnbull saw that their potency often lay in the simplification of their form and their holistic nature, which acted from the core outwards, rather than a periphery inwards. These qualities have since been admired in Turnbull’s sculpture, with critics praising the multi-faceted nature of his works: ‘Turnbull’s work is full of these unexpected, usually hidden references to old and new forms, high art and low art, Western and non-Western. The constancy of certain elemental forms in different cultures throughout the age is one of the mainsprings of his art, and it is partly this multivalency of meaning and source that gives his art its formal and metaphorical richness’ (P. Elliott, ‘William Turnbull: A Consistent Way of Thinking’, exhibition catalogue, William Turnbull: Bronze Idols and Untitled Paintings, London, Serpentine Gallery, 1995, p. 34).

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