‘Bull’ was Paolozzi’s earliest known sculptural work, having originally been conceived in plaster in 1946. Supporting evidence indicates that the work offered here for sale is the first and original casting in bronze, created in 1960.
Eduardo Paolozzi is now rightly regarded as one of the most influential British artists of the 20th century. Born in Leith in 1924, his studies would take him to Paris in the 1940s, where he became well acquainted with Constantin Brancusi, Alberto Giacometti and Jean Arp; all towering figures in the canon of European avant-garde sculpture. Upon his return to England, he secured a position in the sculpture department at the Slade where he taught for many years, as well as receiving numerous public commissions in Britain and throughout Europe and holding various professorships in Germany. He was made a CBE in 1968, an RA in 1979 and knighted in 1989. He died in 2005.
Freddy Mayor, founder of the Mayor Gallery, London, gave Paolozzi his first one-man show in 1947 while he was still a student at the Slade. The exhibition included sculptures of birds, fish and animals in plaster, concrete and bone. The inspiration for this piece was taken from the representations of bull fights depicted so memorably in the writings of Lorca and Hemingway during this period. A homage to Picasso - who regularly used the bull and minotaur figure as a cipher in his own work - is also clearly at play.
The roughly carved, highly textural finish of this piece deliberately leaves much of the artist’s process exposed, and lends the beast’s form a sinewy, visceral realism. This is stylistically in contrast to his work of the 1950s and beyond which became increasingly concerned with the overlap between man and machine, subsequently favouring a mechanised aesthetic. This more organic style can therefore be placed directly within the context of his Parisian experience.
The history of ‘Bull’ is lightly documented, though art historian and Paolozzi specialist Robin Spencer has gathered sufficient information to reveal the following timeline. Spencer proposes that it was first cast in bronze in 1960 and belonged to the artist’s wife Freda, who lent it to the Venice Biennale that year. Paolozzi later re-acquired this cast from his wife, as confirmed by a surviving receipt in his personal effects. Spencer states that the original cast was inscribed 'E. Paolozzi' on the inside of the back left leg and is the only known signed cast of the sculpture, with other known later bronze casts of ‘Bull’ being uninscribed, unmarked and unstamped. This work, significantly, bears the signature, and appeared for sale through Christie’s in 2003. Though not catalogued as such at the time, Spencer retrospectively commented that he believed this example to be the original cast.
It is probable that later casts made by Paolozzi after 1960 are surmoulages, that is copies cast from the bronze, rather than the plaster or clay original of which there is no remaining record. In about 1974 the late architect Cecil Elsom commissioned a cast of Bull with a gold patina; and Paolozzi had an additional two (or possibly three) similar casts made with a dark patina, probably by the Morris Singer Foundry. One of these casts was bought by Gabrielle Keiller who bequeathed hers to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, in 1995.
As the earliest known cast of Paolozzi’s earliest known sculptural work, this wonderfully raw and confrontationally primitive example of late-Modernism is a scarce and fascinating snapshot of his early oeuvre; a short-lived aesthetic moment in time that represents an important piece of the artist’s history and demonstrates his deep bonds with the Modernist sculptural movement.
As one would expect for such an important piece, this cast has an illustrious exhibition history, having been on long-term loan to Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, and included in the artist’s major retrospective at the Whitechapel Gallery, London in 2017 which subsequently toured to the Berlinische Galerie of Modern Art in Berlin, Germany.
Characterised by competitive bidding, strong results and a high selling rate, our Contemporary & Post-War Art sales are among our most popular auctions. Held three times a year in our Scottish saleroom, highlights are also regularly exhibited in our London gallery. Our strong private client base and excellent international marketing reach has seen these sales grow into flagships of our company.