(English , 1901-1980)
Signed John Skeaping and dated 1927
Height: 7½" (19.5 cm)
Provenance: Bobby & Nathalie Bevan Collection
Exhibition: From Sickert to Gertler: Modern British Art from Boxted House, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, 2008; Tate Britain (on loan)
John Skeaping first studied sculpture in 1914, at Blackheath School of Art, London. He then attended the School of Art at Goldsmiths College the Central School of Arts and Crafts. Later secured a place at the most prestigious art school of all, The Royal Academy Schools (1919 – 1920). While at the RA he was awarded he in 1924 the “Prix de Rome” in the category of Sculpture, a highly esteemed arts scholarship. While in Rome, Skeaping met a runner-up of the scholarship, the young sculptor Barbara Hepworth. The two sculptors married in Florence the following year (1925).
In the 1920s and 30s John Skeaping and Barbara Hepworth’s creative activities profoundly influenced one another’s. Both began to move away from the tenets of academic sculpture on the route of becoming ‘modern’ sculptors as defined by contemporary critics and collectors. They exhibited together at recognised galleries and joined influential exhibiting societies such as the London Group (1928 to 1934) and the Seven and Five Society (1932), becoming the leading figures of the British Modernist movement who were associated with direct carving, together with Richard Perry Bedford and Henry Moore. During these intensely creative years, John Skeaping was ranked alongside Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore as one of the most promising young sculptors of the day. It was Moore himself who commented that ‘no sculptor of his generation was born with greater natural facility than John Skeaping’
John Skeaping, A Retrospective, 1991, p.13
During these years Skeaping’s work centred around animals whose forms and dynamics fascinated him; among the animal figures he carved there were antelopes, buffalos, deers, monkeys, tigers, and polar bears. Works of this period are characterised by the great variety of exotic and local stones - Roman and soap stones, polyphant, Cornish serpentine, Cumbrian alabaster, Irish fossil marble, Sicilian jaune lamantine -, that he carved with great meticulousness and ability. In the words of Jonatan Black: ‘At this stage, the sculptor was intent on mastering as many materials as he could, in the manner of a mountaineer conquering unknown peaks.’
Johnatan Blackwood, 2011, p. 32
Gazelle (1928) is probably one of the best examples of this creative period. The quality of the stone, as much as the abstraction of the animal’s form, is what attracts the viewer’s attention. Gazelle’s pink alabaster is characterized by inherent translucency. The passage of light through the stone adds an appropriate lightness, while the carving seems almost to glow from inside. While the softness of the stone facilitated the carving of the details of Gazelle’s anatomy and the accompanying palm tree. The work of this period can be summarised in the three elements by John Grienson noticed all across in this younger generation of sculptors, ‘new respect of form’, ‘affection for material’, and ‘a dash of gaiety'.
Grienson, 1930, p. 56
Although incredibly talented and an important contributor during the late 1920s and early 1930. After his divorced from Hepworth in 1933, he progressively avoided international-wide debates about aesthetics and modernism, de facto detaching himself from the core of the British Modernist movement.
Skeaping is represented by many leading institutions such as the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Royal Academy, and the Tate Collection. Holders outside the capital include the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford), Fitzwilliam Museum (Cambridge), and public collections in Bradford, Leeds, Liverpool, and Manchester, among others. International collections include those in Australia, USA, and Japan. The majority of his sculptures are held in private collections.
John Grierson, 'The New Generation in Sculpture' Apollo XII, July-December 1930
John Skeaping 1901-80: A Retrospective, exh. cat., London, 1991 p. 7
The Sculpture of John Skeaping, Jonathan Blackwood, London, 2011, p. 78, no. 66