Details & Cataloguing

Modern & Post-War British Art


Dame Elisabeth Frink, R.A.
signed, dated 75 and numbered 2/3
height: 244cm.; 96in.
Conceived in 1974, the present work was cast in 1975 and is number 2 from an edition of 3, plus 1 artist's cast.
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Waddington Galleries, Montreal, where acquired by Milton Ginsburg, 20th June 1979


Winchester, Great Courtyard, Elisabeth Frink: Sculpture in Winchester, 1981, un-numbered catalogue, illustrated (another cast).


'Sculpture in Public Places', Arts Review,25th July 1975, p.430, illustrated (another cast);
Brian Connell, 'Capturing the Human Spirit in Big, Bronze Men', The Times, 5th September 1977, p.5, illustrated (another cast);
Sarah Kent, Elisabeth Frink, Sculpture and Drawings 1952-1984 (exh. cat.), Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1985, illustrated p.47 (another cast);
Bryan Robertson (intro.), Elisabeth Frink Sculpture, Harpvale Books, Salisbury, 1984, cat. no.214, illustrated (another cast);
Elisabeth Frink, Sculpture and Drawings 1950-1990, (exh. cat.) The National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C., 1990, illustrated p.16 (another cast);
Edward Lucie-Smith & Elisabeth Frink, Frink, A Portrait, Bloomsbury, London, 1994, illustrated p.109 (another cast);
Annette Ratuszniak (ed.), Elisabeth Frink, Catalogue Raisonné of Sculpture 1947-93, Lund Humphries in association with the Frink Estate and Beaux Arts, London, 2013, cat. no.FCR242, illustrated p.127 (another cast).


Catalogue Note

By a busy junction, just off London’s Piccadilly, there is a small oasis of calm. It is centred around a sculpture, Horse and Rider, 1974 by Dame Elisabeth Frink. High on a plinth, and thus lifted above the level of the passers-by, the life size bronze sculpture stands still and serene. Since its installation in the 1970s, it has become a part of everyday life in this part of Mayfair, a landmark to steer by, something solid and constant in an ever-changing world.

At first sight, it appears to be a rather straightforward work. The horse stands quite still, head aloft and ears alert, the rider sitting easily, both seemingly attracted by something away to their left. Yet this perfectly balanced moment of halted motion is achieved by a very complex network of factors. Bringing together the very different but exceptionally complicated physical structures of both man and horse in a way that retains the distinct elements of each yet combines them in poise, balance and harmony has been a challenge to which the greatest artists, both sculptors and painters, from antiquity onwards have accepted. As a subject it can be martial and commanding, heroic and action-filled, draw on legend or history. Less than a mile away from Piccadilly, in Hyde Park, stands George Frederic Watts’ Victorian rendering of the same theme, Physical Energy, a sculpture filled with tension, sinews and emotion. Could one imagine something more different from Frink’s piece?

Frink has, in Horse and Rider, 1974, achieved something remarkable. Whilst many treatments of this subject in the past have aspired to the aggrandisement of an individual, the Marcus Aurelius, Charles I or Bonaparte of their time, she has chosen to make her figure anonymous. Naked, and thus shorn of any association beyond the basics of humanity, he is simultaneously strong yet vulnerable, lifted out of any clearly defined period. By doing so, Frink forces us to address him in a very raw and elemental way, and perhaps it is this intentional resistance to our natural tendency to complicate an image that makes it such a potent sculpture.

As a theme, the Horse and Rider had occupied Frink from her earliest days. One of her first recorded sculptures, Horse and Rider, 1950, treats the subject, as do a series of drawings of similar date. The approach is, however, very different. Frink’s early work exhibited a very strong sense of the brutal, something that was common to the generation of sculptors who came to prominence during the 1950s, something that was perhaps unsurprising for those who had lived through the war years and its aftermath of nuclear threat. These first works are suffused with a harshness and violence, yet like the present work, there is vulnerability. The figures are angular and expressive, the heightened emotional and physical states evident in the poses. Indeed, this first Horse and Rider, 1950 has more than just a passing connection to the powerful straining sinews of Watt’s great sculpture. Two decades later, Frink returned to the subject, but brought to it a maturing and more rounded vision.

She had ridden as a youngster in Suffolk, but with her move to the south of France in 1967, she discovered the horses of the Camargue and brought a new strand of understanding to her interpretation of the subject. The sense of a timeless connection begins to creep into her sculptures and drawings of man and horse. The warrior element lessens, and the human grows. Commentators recognised this tendency almost immediately, with Terence Mullaly seeing in 1969 a sense of the prehistoric, the timeless, in her latest sculptures (Terence Mullaly, ‘Sculpture with the Power of the Prehistoric’, Daily Telegraph, 8 December 1968, p.9), and indeed Frink recognised this herself; ‘A symbol of a man on a horse, a man riding free and a horse free…intended to be completely ageless. He could come from the past or go into the future. I like to feel that work to’s and fro’s from past to present’ (Frink, in Brian Connell, ‘Capturing the Human Spirit in Big, Bronze Men’, The Times, 5 September 1977, p.5).

However, for all its serenity, not far from the surface of Horse and Rider, 1974 we find strength and intensity. The energy of both man and horse is clear, and is indeed enhanced by the tension between image and execution that Frink employs. Look, for instance, at the mane, formed by streams of liquid plaster running down the neck, or the working of the surface that shapes the turns of the rider’s torso. Frink’s understanding of her medium allows her to bring to this sculpture a power that is still mesmerising almost forty years after its execution.

Modern & Post-War British Art