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William Turnbull
FEMALE
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UK: Greenford Park
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LOT SOLD. 406,000 GBP
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18
William Turnbull
FEMALE
Estimate
Irrevocable Bids
Lots with this symbol indicate that a party has provided Sotheby’s with an irrevocable bid on the lot that will be executed during the sale at a value that ensures that the lot will sell. The irrevocable bidder, who may bid in excess of the irrevocable bid, will be compensated based on the final hammer price in the event he or she is not the successful bidder or may receive a fixed fee in the event he or she is the successful bidder. If the irrevocable bidder is the successful bidder, the fixed fee (if applicable) for providing the irrevocable bid may be netted against the irrevocable bidder’s obligation to pay the full purchase price for the lot and the purchase price reported for the lot shall be net of such fixed fee. If the irrevocable bid is not secured until after the printing of the auction catalogue, a pre-lot announcement will be made indicating that there is an irrevocable bid on the lot. If the irrevocable bidder is advising anyone with respect to the lot, Sotheby’s requires the irrevocable bidder to disclose his or her financial interest in the lot. If an agent is advising you or bidding on your behalf with respect to a lot identified as being subject to an irrevocable bid, you should request that the agent disclose whether or not he or she has a financial interest in the lot.
UK: Greenford Park
Lots marked W will be sent to Greenford Park Fine Art Storage Facility immediately after the auction.
Artist's Resale Right
Purchase of lots marked with this symbol will be subject to the payment of the artist's resale right.
Double Dagger
Indicates that the lot is being sold whilst subject to Temporary Importation, and that VAT is due at the reduced rate
Guaranteed Property
Guaranteed Property. The seller of lots with this symbol has been guaranteed a minimum price from one auction or a series of auctions. If every lot in a catalogue is guaranteed, the Conditions of Sale will so state and this symbol will not be used for each lot.
300,000500,000
LOT SOLD. 406,000 GBP
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Details & Cataloguing

Modern & Post-War British Art

|
London

William Turnbull
1922-2012
FEMALE
signed with Artist's monogram, numbered 6/6, dated 89 and stamped with foundry stamp
bronze
height: 188cm.; 74in.
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Provenance

The Artist
Waddington Galleries, London
Private Collection

Exhibited

London, Waddington Galleries, William Turnbull, Recent Sculpture, 25th September - 19th October 1991, cat. no.10 (another cast);
London, Serpentine Gallery, William Turnbull, 15th November 1995 - 7th January 1996 (another cast);
Chatsworth, Chatsworth House, William Turnbull at Chatsworth, 10th March - 30th June 2013, cat. no.66, illustrated p.47 (another cast).

Literature

Amanda A. Davidson, The Sculpture of William Turnbull, The Henry Moore Foundation in association with Lund Humphries, Much Hadham, 2005, cat. no.265, illustrated p.176 (another cast).

Catalogue Note

The assertive and elegant Female, 1989, with its archaic totemic form, pitted surface, and schematic markings that reference the essential feminine shape, encapsulates so many of the themes which occupied William Turnbull throughout his career as one of the leading sculptors of Post-War British art.

Turnbull sought to overturn the predominating art historical notions of what constituted sculpture. Turning away from what had since the Renaissance been a pre-occupation with naturalism and a reverence for the classical Greek figurative carvings in shimmering marbles, he was part of a generation of artists who, following on from the likes of Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, sought to create a new notion of what sculpture was meant to be, and how viewers should interact with a work.  

Beginning while a student at the Slade, he frequently visited the British Museum to study archaic and non-classical figures, as well as ancient tools and weapons uncovered through archaeological finds, drawn to the timelessness of these sacred and utilitarian forms. Together with a brief period of study in Paris where he was exposed to the work of Alberto Giacometti and Constantin Brancusi, Turnbull’s focus on primordial forms and his divergence into minimalism resulted in a pared down, refined, and lighter version of his first hieratic phase of the mid-to-late-1950s.  In the early 1970s his style diverged considerably as he focused on industrial minimalist work. By the end of that decade he felt he had explored all there was to offer on the theme, and he turned his exclusive focus to painting. It was the major retrospective of his work at the Tate in 1973, including examples from the last three decades of his career, which outlined some clear and consistent themes that permeated his work, leading to his decision to redefine his earlier ideas on sculpture.

Works such as Female turn again to the idol motif that occupied him in the '50s, the ancient and tribal, with a wonderful economy of expression. Turnbull famously asked: ‘How little will suggest a head?’ (the Artist, quoted in David Sylvester, William Turnbull: Sculpture and Paintings (exh. cat.), Serpentine Gallery, London, 1995, p.10) and the present work suggests the human figure with graceful sparsity: the upright blade which swells and narrows, the functional handles as arms and head, and fingers and genitals scoured onto the surface, both designs and  anatomy.  The surface is rough and pockmarked suggesting both skin and the age and wear of stone. The sweep of hair is scraped and grooved, a method seen in his 50s pieces such as Standing Female Figure (1955).  The markings that etch the bronze are an artificial intervention on a surface which looks both natural and timeless, recalling the markings on tribal shields and masks, and also the ancient art of tattooing, which was a particular fascination of Turnbull’s. As he stated:  ‘from the very beginning of time, people have decorated their bodies. They tattoo themselves, they paint their eyes and lips.’ (William Turnbull, ‘Sculpture with a Presence,’ Straits Times, quoted in Amanda A. Davidson, The Sculpture of William Turnbull, The Henry Moore Foundation in association with Lund Humphries, Much Hadham, 2005, p.68).

Turnbull’s sculptures of this later period diverge from the 50s works partially in their slimness, in part inspired by his son’s skate and surf boards, which presents an interesting formal problem. Female manages to be an arresting presence, standing freely in space, while occupying less mass. The sculpture is allusive, never simply mimicking the human body or the ancient source material. It manages to reference the primordial and corporeal while still asserting itself as a bold statement of modern sculpture at its most avant-garde, creating a dialogue with the viewer and opening itself up to different interpretations with every encounter.

Modern & Post-War British Art

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London