William Turnbull


Bronze: 0(h) x 0(w) in /

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Signed with monogram, numbered and dated near the base: T/ 4/6 83

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SP 5485



 Dundee 1922 – 2012 London




Signed with monogram, numbered and dated near the base: T/ 4/6  83

Bronze with green patina: 22 ¼ in / 56.5 cm height (excluding base)

Stone base: 4 ½ x 7 x 2 ½ in / 11.4 x 17.8 x 6.4 cm

Conceived in 1982 and cast in 1983 in a numbered edition of 6 plus one artist’s copy



Waddington Galleries, London

Private collection, acquired from the above, 1999



Amanda A. Davidson, The Sculpture of William Turnbull, The Henry Moore Foundation in association with Lund Humphries, Aldershot, 2005, p. 157, no. 214, another cast illustrated



‘…you can never understand every work of art completely. Each time you encounter it you have a new experience. The mystery is in this elusiveness.’ William Turnbull, 1984.[1]


In Greek Mythology, Erato was one of the nine muses, daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory, known as patronesses of the arts and goddesses of creative inspiration, invoked to assist humans in their artistic endeavours. Erato was the muse of lyric, specifically love and erotic poetry, her name meaning ‘beloved’ or ‘lovely’, and was often depicted with or playing a lyre or kithara.


Turnbull’s interest in ancient civilisations and in the creative process itself is brilliantly manifested in his sculpture of the early 1980s, including works such as Leda, 1982 and the Metamorphic Venus series of the same year, which returned to reinvestigate a sequence of bronze idols he first created in the 1950s. The artist transformed these early idols in the 1980s, giving them smoother surfaces, different-coloured patinas and finely incised markings. As Amanda Davidson explains in Turnbull’s catalogue raisonné; ‘The later Idols are overt combinations of abstract figures, primitive tools, modern objects and religious statues, exploring ideas of change and metamorphosis and the relationship between the past, present and future. However, these idols are also detached and unassertive, resisting polemic and drama, inviting the viewers to invest them with whatever metaphoric symbolism they wish, rather than imposing any values upon them.’[2]






William Turnbull, Large Metamorphic Venus, 1983

The Fran and Ray Stark Sculpture Garden, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles




Dundee 1922 – 2012 London



William Turnbull, the internationally renowned sculptor, painter and printmaker, was born in Dundee on the 11th January 1922. Having demonstrated an early passion for drawing, Turnbull left school at fifteen and got a job as an illustrator for the local periodical publishing house, DC Thompson, while studying art in the evenings. After serving as a pilot in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War, he enrolled at the Slade School of Art and studied there from 1946 to 1948 before spending two years in Paris. While he was abroad, Turnbull met and was profoundly influenced by the artists Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957) and Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966). He visited America for the first time in 1957, and travelled to Japan, Cambodia, and Malaysia in 1962.


The first one-man show of his sculpture was held in 1950 at the Hanover Gallery; his paintings were exhibited there two years later. In 1952 he represented Britain at the Venice Biennale. He had a solo exhibition of sculpture and painting at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London in 1957 and took part in This is tomorrow exhibition at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London in 1956 and Situation at the RBA Galleries, London in 1960. In 1973 the Tate Gallery held a retrospective of his work and in 1995-6 the Serpentine held a major show of his work. From 1952-61 and 1964-72 he taught at the Central School of Art in London. Turnbull was married to the sculptor and printmaker Kim Lim, with whom he had two sons. He died in London on the 15th November 2012.


The work of William Turnbull is represented in the Government Art Collection; the National Galleries of Scotland; the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Australia; Cass Sculpture Foundation, Goodwood; the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago; Tate Gallery, London and the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, Iran.





[1] Interview with Caroline Ngui, ‘Sculptures with a presence’, Straits Times, 19th September 1984, Section 2, p. 7.

[2] Amanda A. Davidson, op. cit., p.63.

Post War BritishSculptureWilliam Turnbull