Frank Dobson

The Man Child


Not on display

Frank Dobson 1888–1963
Portland stone
Object: 768 × 559 × 324 mm, 150 kg
Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1971

Display caption

Dobson trained as both a painter and sculptor, but concentrated on sculpture after active service in the First World War. Like many of his contemporaries, he found inspiration for his work in the ethnographic collections of the British Museum. He particularly admired carvings from the Congo in Africa. Such interest in what had been considered ‘less civilised’ cultures became more widespread after the ‘sophisticated’ destruction of the war.Here, in the wake of conflict, Dobson returns to fundamental human relationships. The manchild of the title melds with two female figures who seem to embody maternal protection expressing both joy and fear for the new life.

Gallery label, July 2007

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Catalogue entry

Frank Dobson 1888-1963

T01322 The Man Child 1921

Not inscribed.
Portland stone, 30¼ x 22 x 12¾ (77 x 56 x 32.5).
Chantrey Purchase from the Hamet Gallery 1971.
Coll: Eric Kennington; Mrs Eric Kennington; Hamet Gallery 1971.
Exh: Leicester Galleries, November 1921 (174) in unfinished state; Arts Council retrospective, Arts Council Gallery, June–July 1966 and tour, August–November (10); R. A., 1971 (not in catalogue; placed on exhibition only in mid–May).
Repr: The Tyro, N0.2, 1922, plate x, as ‘Family’ (in present state except for integral stone base which is shown as rectangular); T. W.Earp, Frank Dobson, Sculptor, 2nd edition 1945, pi.4.

The artist’s first wife, Mrs Cordelia Dobson, wrote (letters of 21 February and 28 May 1972) that the red sandstone ‘Baby’s Head’, 1920, (repr. Earp, op. cit., pl.3, where wrongly stated to belong to Wyndham Lewis), which had belonged to her since 1920, was regarded by the artist as an earlier version of the baby’s head in T01322, which it closely resembles.

Mrs Dobson added that the artist ‘worked on [T01322] from many drawings he had prepared from various figure models’. Dobson’s exhibition at the Leicester Galleries in 1921 included a ‘Working drawing for “The Man Child”’ (119), and three works entitled ‘study for “The Man Child”’, as well as a ‘study for “A Maternity”’.

No evidence has been traced to indicate in what degree T01322 was unfinished when exhibited in 1921, but Mrs Dobson confirmed that the photograph reproduced by Earp showed the final state. The softer outlines and edges of the work when acquired by the Tate Gallery are the result of weathering.

Details have not been traced of the occasion on which T01322 was said (in the catalogue of the Arts Council’s 1966 retrospective) to have been exhibited at the Grafton Galleries in 1924.

In the issue of The Tyro in which T01322 was reproduced, plate ix reproduced a carving very similar in both style and organisation (a close grouping of several figures, forming many angles) to T01322, entitled ‘Woman Descending from Bus’.

Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1970–1972, London 1972.


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