LONDON - On a recent visit to MoMA in New York I stumbled across a room swimming in colour, a room which housed three of the most iconic names in the American Post-War period: Barnett Newman, Ad Reinhardt and Mark Rothko. On the far end wall hangs Newman’s Vir Herioicus Sublimis (1950-1), one of the largest paintings of his output, the title translating from Latin to read ‘Man, heroic and sublime.’ And sublime it is, with bold, dissecting vertical lines and a red that seemed to go on forever. I was drawn to the picture, but drawn perhaps for the close resemblance to a lesser-known artist, William Turnbull, and in particular his 1958 masterpiece 24-1958 which Sotheby’s is very excited to be offering for sale from the studio of the artist as part of our upcoming 10 June sale of Modern & Post-War British Art.


(left) William Turnbull, 24-1958, oil on canvas, Estimate £50,000 – 80,000 and (right) William Turnbull, Idol 2, bronze, Estimate £80,000 – 120,000.

Whilst today internationally recognised for his role as a sculptor, it was in Turnbull’s bold, daring canvases that the artist really let loose, forming some of the most stunningly beautiful paintings of the second half of the twentieth century. Turnbull, who died in 2012, alongside contemporaries including Patrick Heron and Peter Lanyon created works that easily rival the developments taking place in North America at the time.


William Turnbull in his studio. Photograph by Kim Lim, courtesy the Estate of William Turnbull.

The connection between Turnbull and North America is particularly strong, and in 1955 he met the American collector Donald Blinken, who later became chairman of the Rothko Foundation. Blinken later suggested that Turnbull was the only sculptor ‘timeless’ enough to stand next to Rothko’s work – high praise indeed! Turnbull met Rothko and Newman when he visited Blinken in New York in 1957, from which stage his canvases exploded with a new colour and vitality, seen brilliantly in 24-1958, with a rich emerald green square set against a red every inch as captivating and alluring as Newman’s. Whilst the work of Rothko, Newman and Reinhardt hangs on museum walls across the globe, Turnbull’s paintings, both reductive and minimal, displaying well the striking power of colour, are only now beginning to achieve the international recognition that they so deserve.