Lot 22
  • 22

Dame Elisabeth Frink, R.A.

120,000 - 180,000 GBP
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  • Dame Elisabeth Frink, R.A.
  • Mirage II
  • signed and numbered 5/6
  • bronze
  • height: 247cm.; 97in.
  • Conceived in 1969, the present work is number 5 from the edition of 6.


The Artist's Estate, from whom acquired by the present owner


London, Beaux Arts, Elisabeth Frink, 7th June - 8th July 2006, un-numbered exhibition, illustrated front cover (another cast).


Jill Willder (ed.), Elisabeth Frink Sculpture Catalogue Raisonné, Harpvale, Salisbury, 1984, cat. no.179, illustrated p.175 (another cast);
Stephen Gardiner, Frink: The Official Biography of Elisabeth Frink, Harper Collins, London, 1998, illustrated unpaginated;
Annette Ratuszniak (ed.), Elisabeth Frink, Catalogue Raisonné of Sculpture 1947-93, Lund Humphries, Farnham, 2013, cat. no.FCR206, illustrated p.115 (another cast).

Catalogue Note

The final and largest of the ‘Mirage’ series, these hazily threatening figures developed from Elisabeth Frink’s study of birds such as Harbinger Bird (c.1965, Tate, London) and were the direct result of fresh inspiration having moved to Cévennes, France, in 1967. The first of this series was worked in polished aluminium and the Artist describes how the forms of these works were conceived: ‘The theme really came from going to visit the Camargue for quite a long period. In the very hot weather people on horseback or birds – flamingos in the distance – used to assume these strange, talking shapes, floating, broken up by the distance. I was trying to do something which was part bird, part stalking beast, but not entirely either’ (the Artist, quoted in Edward Lucie-Smith and Elisabeth Frink, Frink a Portrait, Bloomsbury, London, 1994, p.123). The seed of this psychologically haunting series, however, had been established as early as 1952, when Frink was still studying at the Chelsea School of Art in London.

In that year Herbert Read coined the term ‘Geometry of Fear’ in reviewing the work of British sculptors such as Kenneth Armitage, Lynn Chadwick and William Turnbull at the Venice Biennale. At the same time Frink produced four similar bronzes, all titled Bird and one of which is held in the Tate, London, which depict birds of prey in aggressive, stalking poses. That form has been carefully refined and reworked with bronze in Mirage I and Mirage II to reveal a sense of both vulnerability and aggression – twin concepts which were integral to much of Frink’s work. In this way the Mirage form can be read as ambiguous and metamorphous: the figures as victims, crouching away in fear, keeping low and hidden, or stalking their prey in a co-ordinated, ruthless pack. This duality is enforced by the shimmering, flowing waves in the surface of the bronze, which are more subtly effective than the polished sheen of aluminium in referencing the mirage effect which gives the piece its name.

Although the primary subjects of her work, Frink did not consider herself to be a sculptor of animals: ‘I always try to explain that I’m not in fact an animal sculptor. If you love animals you have to have some sort of sympathy with the way they are or exist, and how we treat them. If I’m sculpting animals I don’t want to over-sentimentalise them because one can be very sentimental about that part of our life’ (the Artist, quoted in Annette Ratuszniak, op. cit., p.189). Her ability to cut to the centre of the age old relationship and express the dialogue between man and animal, avoiding the pitfalls of clichéd stereotypes, is the essence and strength of her sculpture. She was brought up in Great Thurlow, Suffolk, near the military bases at which her father was stationed and officers who visited before and during the Second World War made a significant impression upon the teenage Frink who was able to see them as they were, both strengthened for the attack and protective of their weaknesses in defence as derived from their war time role as both the hunters and the hunted. This gift of psychological perception was one that she applied with great skill to her sculpture of animals, as well as men.

This edition was first commissioned by Robert Alistair McAlpine, Baron McAlpine of West Green, with six versions being cast. McAlpine was a passionate and active collector as well as an advisor to Margaret Thatcher from 1975 to 1990. McAlpine wrote guides to collecting and insights into his adventures as a collector of both curiosities and contemporary art. In the mid-1960s he was heavily involved with the development of property in Perth, the hot, arid climate of Western Australia of which would embellish the already powerful effect of Mirage I and Mirage II. That McAlpine also supported Leslie Waddington and the Curwen Press on publishing copies of Aesop’s fables accompanied with illustrations by Elisabeth Frink marks him out as one of her earliest private patrons who followed the example provided by state-supported public patrons of post-war British sculpture.