Five years ago Sotheby’s showcased the work of Barry Flanagan, one of Britain’s most celebrated sculptors at Chatsworth, one of Britain’s most impressive private houses. The exhibition celebrated the monumental sculptures that Flanagan made in the latter part of his career, and in particular the motif of the hare, which had dominated his work from the 1980s.
The 1980s were a period of intense artistic activity and critical success for Flanagan, beginning in 1982 when he represented Britain at the Venice Biennale. In the years that followed his artistic language was to mature and evolve, centring on the predominant theme of the hare, a subject that he had first been drawn to the previous decade. It was George Ewart Evans’ 1972 book The Leaping Hare which set the sculptor of the path of the hare; a theme which continued to dominate the artist’s work for the rest of his life. Evans’ book was an anthropological study of the hare, combining accounts of legends from many different countries and cultures, together with superstitions and mythologies all of which fed Flanagan’s fierce appetite for the theme.
The hare has taken many guises in Flanagan’s sculpture – assertive, pensive, leaping and mysterious – and with its anthropomorphic qualities it has become a much loved motif. It’s incarnation as a modern day ‘thinker’ is one of the sculptor’s most striking visions. A playful take on Rodin’s timeless Le Penseur, or The Thinker, as with Flanagan’s best works it succeeds in being both humorous and poignant, and allows the viewer to bring their own interpretation to the works. Cast in bronze, the material that Flanagan believed best suited his vision, the dark, undulating surfaces record what he referred to as the ‘bloom and drama’ of his Rodinesque subject.
'This little beast, fast and fleeting, active in the spring... can carry many of Flanagan's purposes. It is the consummation of the vein of humour in his art. But it also has serious artistic purposes as a vehicle for formal variations.' (Tim Hilton, Barry Flanagan: Sculpture, exh. cat., The British Council, London, 1982, p.14)
The symbolic power of the hare is explicit in the present work, a larger version of which stands on public display in the city of Utrecht. As a human thinker, Thinker on Rock would be far more limited but as a hare, the work allows for a multitude of anthropomorphic and imaginative projections, for, as Flanagan recalled ‘I find that the hare is a rich and expressive form that can carry the conventions of the cartoon and the attributes of the human into the animal world. So I use the hare as a vehicle to entertain. I abstract from the human figure, choosing the hare to behave as a human occasionally’ (Enrique Juncosa, Barry Flanagan Sculpture 1965-2005, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, 2006, p.65).
The Modern & Post-War British Art sale is in London on 12 and 13 June.