Rather than create a straight portrait of the famous seventeenth century scientist, Paolozzi, a master of appropriation and of ‘collaging culture’ (to use the title of his recent retrospective at Pallant House Gallery) instead re-appropriated William Blake’s iconic (and critical) image from 1795, of a naked Newton, as neo-classical ‘hero’, sitting on a rock, measuring the extent of the universe with a pair of compasses.
As Paolozzi himself wrote, this image ‘has fascinated me for many years. Blake shows Newton surrounded by the glories of nature but, oblivious to the beauty, concentrates on reducing the universe to mathematical dimensions. Blake was no admirer of Newton and meant this work to be a critical assessment of the scientist's preoccupations. The work says different things to me. Here we have the work of two British geniuses presenting to us simultaneously nature and science - welded, interconnecting, interdependent. The link is the classically beautiful body of Newton crouched in a position reminiscent of Rodin's The Thinker. Newton sits on nature, using it as a base for his work. His back is bent in work, not submission, and his figure echoes the shape of rock and coral. He is part of nature' (Robin Spencer (ed.), Eduardo Paolozzi Writings and Interviews, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2000, p.322).
In Paolozzi’s hands, the scientific is more to the fore, with the figure of Newton ‘welded’ and pinned together from various body parts, an android rather than a neo-classical nude. Paolozzi had explored making robotic figures, as ciphers for the human condition in a mechanical world, ever since the early 1950s, going through various iterations, from the post-apocalyptic visions assembled from junk, through to his bright, shiny painted figures that shared in the optimism of the 60s space race. In his works form the 1990s, the boundaries between the human and the machine are more fluid, bound by the smooth surface of his bronzes, a visual understanding of the pervasiveness of technology in human lives. Paolozzi’s own body is often used for these androids, and the hulking form of After Blake's Newton has much in common with his more overt self-portraits, such as Self-Portrait with Strange Machine, or The Artist as Hephaestus (although the eyes of Newton are a copy of Michelangelo’s David).
Paolozzi’s After Blake's Newton, then, is a remarkable tribute from one artist to another, across the centuries, as well as a compelling exploration of the relationship between science and more numinous, universal ideas (which were, of course, Blake’s raison d’etre). This particular maquette was dedicated by the artist to the renowned British horologist Dr George Daniels (1926-2011), the perfect recipient for such an image. Daniels was considered to be the best watchmaker in the world during his lifetime and one of the few modern makers who built complete watches by hand. Paolozzi was good friends with Daniels and the artist portrayed him in bronze on several occasions, works which, along with the present lot, were also sold in The George Daniels Horological Collection sale in these rooms on 6th November 2012.
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