The Soldier's Tale, which belongs to a group of large steel sculptures Anthony Caro executed between 1982 and 1984, marks a radical shift away from the composition, material and character of the preceding Emma series of sculptures executed in the late 1970s. Instead of the partially painted sections of light, tubular metal used to create the open, linear style of such works as Emma Dipper (Tate T03455), Caro began to use massive sections of steel, often found in marine scrapyards at Chatham and Portsmouth, to achieve a denser, more monumental aesthetic.
The Soldier's Tale consists of large flat sheets of steel that have been arranged as a framing portal-like device. Contained within this frame there is a large half-buoy, cut to create a rounded cup-like form. The juxtaposition of these two main elements creates a dialogue between the works' exterior form and its interior space. While other elements, notably the massive chain link, bollard and section of I-beam, set up a counterpoint to the principal parts, each section remains related to one another in terms of colour and formal language. These constituent parts are bolted or welded together to create a structure of considerable formal complexity and physical presence.
The musical dimension implied in the term counterpoint is a related aspect of the work. Caro himself has compared the half-buoys to open mouths - as if singing - and has suggested that the individual elements of his sculptures cohere in a similar way to the notes within a piece of music. While Handel's Hallelujah Chorus has been cited by Caro as an influence on the sculpture, the title A Soldier's Tale is taken from a piece of music of the same name written by the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky in 1918 at the end of the World War I (1914-18).
Dieter Blume Anthony Caro: catalogue raisonné vol. V, Cologne 1985, reproduced pp.219 and 321, cat. no.1635