The theme of horses is one that was to dominate Turnbull’s work throughout much of his career as one of Britain’s most prolific Post-War sculptors, and one to which the artist returned to a number of times over a period of more than half a century, from one of his earliest sculptures in 1946 right up to his Horse 3 (2000). Turnbull was inspired by his early encounter with the Horse of Selene, from the frieze of the east pediment of the Parthenon and housed in the British Museum, London. It was whilst the artist was studying at the nearby Slade school that he came across this strong, stoic beast and began what was to remain a life-long affinity with the animals, no doubt captivated by the expansive and continued possibilities that the motif offered. He was drawn to the close relationship between man and horse that had abounded throughout much of ancient and modern history, and the interdependence of the two. Throughout the course of his life he worked to refine the animal to its bare minimum, a paring inspired by his fascination with ‘primitive’ African masks, the likes of which also graced the museum’s walls.
As with much of his output, Turnbull looked back to ancient civilisations and societies for inspiration for his sculptures, whether in the arrows and blades of Neolithic man, or the shapely curves of Cycladic figures, and by the late 1980s turned his attention to ancient adzes, tools dating back to the stone age used in the carving and smoothing of wood. Inspired by the deep, incising lines, it is the overall balance of the form that is at once so fascinating, standing, as in the present work, on a truly monumental scale. Large Horse can be seen as the culmination of many of his most important ideas and beliefs in terms of his role as a sculptor. Standing tall, it is the largest of the horses that the artist ever created and clearly displays the centrality of the motif within his working output.
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