5 minutes with… David Wynne’s Boy with a Dolphin

Specialist Alice Murray admires a smaller version — one sixth of the size — of an iconic sculpture that stands on the banks of the River Thames at Chelsea. It is offered on 21 March in our Modern | British and Irish Art sale in London

‘This is a chance to own a really sensitive and iconic piece of British sculpture,’ says Alice Murray, a specialist in the Modern British & Irish Art department in London. Boy with a Dolphin (1974) by David Wynne (1926-2014) is one of London’s most recognisable landmarks, standing 13 feet high and situated next to Albert Bridge on the banks of the River Thames in Chelsea.

The final, monumental sculpture was unveiled in October 1975, the concept following an earlier sculpture, Girl with a Dolphin, outside the Guoman Tower Hotel at St Katharine’s Dock near Tower Bridge. At one sixth of the size of the Albert Bridge piece, the sculpture that Murray appraises in this film — offered in our Modern | British & Irish Art  sale on 21 March — was the first and smallest iteration of the celebrated piece that Wynne conceived in 1972.

David Wynne (1926-2014), Boy with a Dolphin. 23¾  in (60.5  cm) long, excluding metal base. Estimate £20,000-30,000. This lot is offered in Modern  British & Irish Art  on 21 March 2018  at Christie’s in London

David Wynne (1926-2014), Boy with a Dolphin. 23¾ in (60.5 cm) long, excluding metal base. Estimate: £20,000-30,000. This lot is offered in Modern | British & Irish Art on 21 March 2018 at Christie’s in London

A 4ft-long (122 cm) version, which was conceived a year later, sold at Christie’s South Kensington in March 2017 for £353,000 — more than 10 times its low estimate and a world record for the artist at auction. The largest version was completed in 1974 in an edition of three: one for the Embankment, another now in Chestnut Place Plaza in Worcester, Massachusetts, and the third outside the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

David Wynne was a self-taught sculptor who set up a studio in Campden Hill in Holland Park, London, in the 1950s. ‘I love the idea that he was self-taught,’ says Murray, ‘and that perhaps he shunned art school to focus on who he wanted to be as an artist.’

Soon after setting up his studio, Wynne was commissioned to sculpt the heads of the four members of the Beatles. He would become well-respected for his commissions unveiled by the Royal family, which include the central section of the Queen Elizabeth gate installed at Hyde Park Corner in commemoration of the Queen Mother’s 90th birthday in 1990. He also created the much-loved sculpture Guy the Gorilla, a portrait of one of London Zoo’s best-loved animals, for Crystal Palace Park in south London. 

‘Often I thought what fun it would be in the open sea, particularly for a boy such as my Roland, who would be light enough to be towed long distances’ — David Wynne

Wynne studied zoology at Cambridge University. ‘His passion for the natural world, his passion for animals and their movement really comes across in this beautiful sculpture,’ says Murray. ‘Technically, it’s brilliant. He has used a double-cantilever method — essentially two points that are balancing each other — to create this defiance of gravity.’  

The sculpture has an added personal dimension, too: the figure of the boy is based on Wynne’s son, Roland, who was nine years old when the artist conceived this version in 1973.

‘Dolphins would actually give one a ride as in the sculpture,’ Wynne remarked. ‘Often I thought what fun it would be in the open sea, particularly for a boy such as my younger Roland, who would be light enough to be towed long distances. Thus the idea was born.’

In a film made by Victoria Salmon in 2009, he explained, ‘I am not trying to make anything new. There is nothing new under the sun, but the truth must be stated with each generation. I really believe that’s so.’