Elisabeth Frink depicted the solitary male figure throughout her career, establishing it as one of the most recognisable and powerful themes of Modern British Twentieth Century sculpture. Such was her commitment to the motif that there is only one female image in Frink's entire oeuvre, the Walking Madonna in the Cathedral Close at Salisbury. Her devotion to the portrayal of the male figure has set her apart from her contemporaries and has made her one of the most profound sculptors of the human condition this century has produced. In the male figure she stated that both man and mankind were portrayed, a duality that was interchangeable in her works. For Frink the female body and nude had too many traditional connotations of idealised beauty within the canon of Western art, a notion from which she wished to move away from presenting her figures as physical presences free from the symbolism of artistic academic conventions. For Frink, the male figure provided the best vehicle for conveying the energy and impetus needed to create her sensual sculptural forms. The male figure became a symbol of humanity and she explored within its form the complexity of the human condition, addressing the strength, courage, and beauty of mankind, as well as its propensity for violence, brutality, and hatred. Portrayal of the emotive and characteristic traits of human kind became a driving force for Frink, striving to capture the feeling of a man over anatomical accuracy. Frink expressed this focus of her works in an interview with Bryan Robertson, she stated, ‘What I have tried to make clear in my sculpture … is the way in which feeling, expression, even force and energy, should be below the surface.’ She continues, ‘The outer skin may define more or less conventional features, but with a second look should indicate the complex strains of nerve-endings and the anticipatory reflexes of something that is about to happen’ (Elisabeth Frink interview with B. Robertson in J. Willder (ed.), Elisabeth Frink Sculpture Catalogue Raisonné, Salisbury, 1984, p. 33).
Commissioned in 1983 by Mr and Mrs Leo A. Daly III, Washington, Seated Man represents one of Frink’s most successful themes: the seated male nude. This was an archetype she developed in the early 1980s, based on drawings of a young man that she began in 1981. This idea was realised two years later with the present lot and again in Seated Man II, 1986, (a cast, sold in these Rooms 10 July 2013, £817,875) and marks the point when Frink moves away from the sinewy athletic figures of her earlier work to focus on a stockier and more monumental male figure. In Seated Man there is a full-bodied sensuality and an overt sense of masculinity which is absent in former works. The young man is portrayed only just coming into maturity, his features are handsome and strong, his body thick-set and virile as he sits in a relaxed seated pose. In the interview with Bryan Robertson she describes that in this figure there is a ‘latent and interior energy, in which feeling is implicit’(ibid).
The model for both Seated Man and Seated Man II is likely to have been her husband Alex Csáky for Frink often drew inspiration from those closest to her, her works often taking on facial characteristics of loved ones, with many also bearing a striking resemblance to herself. As with Frink's large heads of the 1980s, Seated Man seems to bear a distinct resemblance to his physiognomy. Initially intending to develop the Seated Man pose into a large sequence, like her series of Running Men (1979-86), she only completed two sculptures: Seated Man and Seated Man II created three years later.
Her relationship with Leo Daly was one of great friendship and mutual admiration. Daly fondly recalls his recollections of the artist in the Catalogue Raisonné produced in 2013, citing their first meeting in the early 1980s at her home in Woolland, Dorset, at the invitation of her stepson Adrian Csáky, a London based art and antiques dealer. He relays the impact that their home, a converted stable, had on him with the grounds scattered with her sculptures of giant heads, men, horses and dogs, which stood majestically against the picturesque Dorset landscape and the floor-to-ceiling glass studio, which showcased her latest work. Their friendship proved mutually beneficial with Daly securing the commission for the Exchange Square in Hong Kong in the 1980s where now sit her two life-size water buffalo sculptures. He also was to aid in the National Museum of Women in the Arts exhibition in Washington in 1990, organising a number of events around the show including the opening celebration dinner. Daly describes that Frink was a larger than life character, whose vibrancy and engaging character were to establish their friendship, which would last up until her death in 1993.