T02014 DEATH OR GLORY 1963–4
Painted wood in three sections, 74×75 1/2×38 9/16 (188×191×97)
Purchased from Mrs Irena Fullard (Grant-in-Aid) 1975
Exh: George Fullard, Marlborough New Gallery, London, November 1964 (6, repr.); George Fullard 1923–1973, Serpentine Gallery, London, July–August 1974 (35, repr. p.25)
Lit: Frederick Brill, ‘George Fullard’ in Motif, 13, No. 14, pp.48–64 (repr. p.63).
The following catalogue entry is based on information supplied by Mrs Irena Fullard (the artist's wife) in a letter to the compiler (26 June 1976).
‘Death or Glory’ was made in the artist's studio, 11/12 Stanley Studios, Park Walk, Chelsea, SW10, during 1963–4. Work on it was intermittent for, as Mrs Fullard told the compiler, ‘my husband frequently worked on two pieces alternately over a period’.
With regard to the raw materials for ‘Death or Glory’, Mrs Fullard supplied the following information: ‘My husband had a very large collection of items, from all kinds of sources, and would sometimes consider one particular item for years, before finally using it. The wall at the back of ‘Death or Glory’ (actually a piece of flooring) came from an abandoned house in Park Walk. The decorative top was from an old picture frame. The shield is part of a modelling banker (turntable). The horseshoes (for the table/horse) were specially made, as was the wooden sword blade. The ribs of the horse were part of a barrel, I think. The infant's cocked hat and his legs and the horse's head are sawn from old doors. The horse's eye is an old drawer pull. The reverse of the wall is shuttering thrown out from a butcher's shop in the Fulham Road. The little cannons are made up partly from do-it-yourself toy kits, combined with other items. All the items except the turn-table which had to be cleaned and the flooring which had to be sanded (again to clean it) remained more or less in their original state’. Mrs Fullard also informed the compiler that ‘the leopards’ just visible centre left on the shield ‘were stencilled on’.
Concerning the order in which the various items were assembled, Mrs Fullard made the following observations: ‘I think (he) had a particularly clear idea of how this sculpture would be made before he started, and as I remember it proceeded without major changes. First he set to cleaning the flooring and constructing the back piece-the remainder seemed to fall into place’.
‘Death or Glory’ is one of a number of subjects on the theme of war that the artist undertook between 1961–4. There is an obvious overlap in the use of materials and a certain recurrence of themes within the series. For example the use of shuttering in this work is also used in ‘The Infant St George’ 1962–3, as is the body of the infant, and a matching piece of turned wood is used for the infant's gun. The re-occurrence of certain ideas within the series can be seen in the figure of the infant with a cocked hat, and the table which represents a horse in both ‘Death or Glory’ and ‘Mounted Infant’, 1963.
This use of the table to symbolize a horse reflects the artist's interest in the world of the child. On the symbolic significance of certain items in the work Mrs Fullard explained that some of the items were selected ‘in the sense that a child might well have chosen some of these objects in play-for instance a table to represent a horse’. In his writings the artist drew attention to the ‘easy magic of the child’ and the similar approach which he assumed in his creative process. He wrote ‘The need of art is that the artist attains absolute conviction of the inevitable occurrence of miracles through the power of instinct and imagination. Just as the child without effort, slips through imagination out of life to make man a pepper pot, or the heaving deck of a shipwreck of a placid pavement, so the artist works towards the miracle of making visible that which apparently could not exist... The easy magic of the child is an element of life. To find the parallel in art demands the total attendance of consciousness. And at the heart of the innocent, the new infancy for which the artist works, lies the core of humility not as a public process or a technique, but as a profound secret’. (Sculpture and Survival, Serpentine Gallery, London, op.cit, p.9).
On the title of ‘Death or Glory’ Mrs Fullard supplied the following information: ‘The title “Death or Glory” is taken from the cap motto of the regiment to which (he) served in the war-17/21st Lancers. He fought with them at Cassino. Their badge (which they always referred to as a “cap motto”) is the skull and crossbones with the words “OR GLORY” underneath’.
Mrs Fullard also made some interesting observations on the artist's attitude to war and the underlying meaning of ‘Death or Glory’. She wrote: ‘(He) was intensely proud of his service with this regiment, which he undertook willingly as an anti-facist. In spite of this (because of this?) he was by no means a militarist. His battle experience as a front line soldier in his early youth coloured the remainder of his life, I believe. Perhaps he conveys by this work the idea that a child at play is in some way foretelling its own future and encompassing all its potential-for good or ill’. On the artist's youthful experience of war perhaps it should also be mentioned that he was severely wounded after the battle of Cassino.
The Tate Gallery 1974-6: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1978