Bryan Kneale MBE



Not on display

Bryan Kneale MBE born 1930
Chalk on paper
Support: 1831 × 913 mm
Presented by Sir Richard (later Lord) Attenborough 1987

Display caption

Horse belongs to a series of works Kneale describes as 'Bone Drawings'. As a sculptor, Kneale had made preparatory sketches, but he had not seen drawing as 'an end in itself'. He began to draw intensely after an accident in 1984, which left him temporarily disabled, and a visit to Rome in 1985, which increased his desire to draw. His fascination with 'anatomical odds and ends' and 'mouldering skeletons' can be linked with his desire to 'express the whole' and to his admiration of the paintings of George Stubbs (1724-1806), an artist famous for his equestrian imagery, whose work is also on display at Tate Britain.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

T04892 Horse 1985

Blue, purple and ochre conté chalk on machine-made wove paper 1831 × 913 (72 1/8 × 36)
Inscribed ‘Bryan Kneale 85’ b.r.
Presented by Sir Richard (later Lord) Attenborough 1987
Prov: Bt by the donor from the 1986–7 Royal College of Art exhibition
Exh: Bryan Kneale Sculptures 1960–83 and Bone Drawings 1983–86, Royal College of Art, Nov.–Dec. 1986, extended to Feb. 1987, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, May–June 1987 (1, repr. on exh. broadsheet); Bryan Kneale: Bone Drawings, RA, Sept.–Nov. 1988 (21)
Lit: Simon Tait, ‘Bryan Kneale: The New Henry Moore Gallery at the Royal College of Art Opens with a Winner’, Arts Review, vol.39, Jan. 1987, p.56, repr. p.57; Mary Rose Beaumont, ‘Bryan Kneale: Royal Academy of Arts’, Arts Review, vol.40, Oct. 1988, p.698. Also repr: Independent, 27 Nov. 1986, p.25

In this drawing the skeleton and the outline of the horse's body are drawn in blue. Lightly drawn purple and blue shading covers the image and extends beyond the outline of the animal's form. To the left of the horse's body the shading includes ochre conté chalk.

The Royal College of Art's exhibition Bryan Kneale Sculptures 1960–83 and Bone Drawings 1983–86, organised to celebrate the opening of their new Henry Moore Gallery in 1986, revealed a major new development in Kneale's work, his anatomical drawings. Kneale called his new images ‘bone drawings’. The twenty-seven drawings included in the exhibition, depicted the anatomies of animals, birds and fish, and were all executed in coloured conté chalk. At the time of the exhibition Kneale observed, ‘I don't think of the things as studies. They are a way of making sculpture, things in themselves. This exhibition is going to be the breakthrough to make me [make] sculpture again’ (quoted in Tait 1987, p.56). All the works in the series placed a strong emphasis on line, although T04892 differs from most of the other drawings in its extensive use of shading. Kneale considered T04892 the most important drawing of the series.

Kneale has drawn throughout his career, although, as he wrote in a reply postmarked 1 November 1994 to questions posed by the compiler, ‘there have been gaps. Most noticably in the 1960s and 70s when I worked in metal although I did draw as an aid to working out problems and visualising forms and sculpture. I did not see drawing at that time as an end in itself which I do now’.

In the early 1980s Kneale concentrated exclusively on drawing. The artist explained that this decision was partly owing to circumstance: ‘I was at the time doing a colossal amount of teaching. I was professor at the Royal Academy Sculpture School [1982–5] and also Senior Tutor with Phillip King at the RCA [from 1980, and Head of Sculpture Department 1982–90]. It meant that my slow tortuous process of sculpture making was no longer feasible and I needed to express myself more directly at much greater speed.’ Moreover, two significant events led to Kneale's return to drawing, namely, a road accident in 1984 (he was hit by a car while crossing the road to his studio) and a visit to Rome in 1985. During his stay in Rome he started to draw:

I started drawing - I hadn't drawn anything for years. Suddenly I couldn't stop, and I realised why I'd gone back to the RA schools, full of Greco-Roman casts and anatomical odds and ends: a marvellous flayed horse and flayed leopard, a terrible case full of mouldering skeletons, and I'd never really got the good out of them when I was a student.

(quoted in Tait 1987, p.57)

Kneale further explained: ‘I began drawing intensely during the period when I was disabled with a broken leg. In this period I did some copies of Stubbs' anatomy, but it was essentially the business of producing something in spite of the fact that I was disabled which gave me the encouragement to take on this series of drawings’ (questionnaire postmarked 1 November 1994).

On his return to London, Kneale visited the Natural History Museum and became fascinated by its collection of animal, fish, reptile and bird skeletons. Kneale (ibid.) recalled:

The Natural History Museum is adjacent to the old sculpture school in Queens Gate. I had become used to drawing in the collection and the Head of Zoology saw some of these drawings and asked me if I would like to have free run of the Collections normally kept for research purposes, the eventual aim being to have an exhibition in the Natural History Museum. I was very happy to accept this opportunity.

However, T04892 ‘was not done from a particular horse's skeleton’ at the Natural History Museum.

‘Horse’ was drawn at the artist's house in Putney. The artist told Richard Morphet, Keeper of the Modern Collection, in February 1987 that the work started as the drawing of a skeleton of a horse, but in due course was built up by him to represent also other parts of the animal. Kneale applied the colour in two ways: as line, in the drawing of bones and outline of the body of the animal; and as soft shading. Kneale had described his approach to colour in an interview with Bryan Robertson (Bryan Kneale: Sculpture: 1959–1966, exh. cat., Whitechapel Art Gallery 1966, p.11): ‘I think of colour as being in the air which surrounds the sculpture rather than in the surface of the object itself.’

In his reply to the compiler Kneale explained how he came to draw T04892: ‘I've always drawn skeletons but I wanted to do a major drawing, taking it as the equivalent of a piece of sculpture on an important scale.’ The artist added, ‘I very rarely use any studies except brief notes. However, I do tend to become fixated on one particular image which I will then concentrate on to the exclusion of others’. While working on T04892 Kneale also worked on ‘a series of small drawings of dead birds mostly procured by my cat, also on a series of drawings of snails, slugs and several small animals from dead specimens I found in the garden’.

David Attenborough observed in the 1988 Royal Academy exhibition catalogue (‘Introduction’ [p.2]), ‘These drawings are, of course, a paradox. The truth is that skeletons, when delineated by Bryan Kneale, do not symbolise death, they proclaim life’. Kneale commented on Attenborough's statement:

I suppose it is partly my delight in structure and form. I have always found in all my work it is the connections, the articulation of form which has been of particular importance to me rather than the development of sculpture as mass. The endless invention in nature of bony structures from minute tiny insects and animals to colossal forms of dinosaur bones which has always fascinated me.

Kneale's fascination with skeletons as internal frameworks developed early in his career. He recalled when interviewed by Bryan Robertson, how ‘One day a life-class, I suddenly realized that when the model opened her mouth I became aware of an internal world which whilst invisible was more real than the outer one. This need to explore and express the whole led me to sculpture’ (Whitechapel Art Gallery exh. cat., 1966, p.9).

The horse had been the subject of a number of Kneale's earlier works, as he explained in his reply to the compiler:

The horse has cropped up on various occasions, most notably in a painting done in 1955 called ‘Pony in the Snow’ [repr. Daily Express Young Artists' Exhibition, exh. cat., New Burlington Galleries 1955, p.11 in col.] which is in the Beaverbrook Foundation in Fredericton, New Brunswick, with which I won the Daily Express Young Artists. The judges were Anthony Blunt, Herbert Read and Graham Sutherland. The Horse head cropped up in a series of plaster and scrim models made for the Critics Choice Exhibition in Tooths Gallery 1959.

Kneale went on to explain his particular fascination with the animal form. ‘Even in my most abstract work I've always searched for a persona in order to feel the work has a life of its own. Many of these qualities I found in animals, birds and human beings rather than purely abstract forms.’

Kneale's interest in the horse as a subject for his work is linked to his admiration of the work of George Stubbs. In particular, Kneale's bone drawings have been compared to Stubb's anatomical studies of the horse. Stubbs researched the anatomy of the horse c.1756 and spent eighteen months dissecting horses and making notes and drawings as he worked. For Stubbs the purpose of this study was to inform his paintings of horses. Forty-two of his drawings survive (repr. George Stubbs 1724–1806, exh. cat., Tate Gallery 1984, nos.6–25 in col.). Kneale explained, ‘I've always been passionately addicted to Stubbs’ work and he has been an inspiration through all my work all my life’. However, Kneale did not base T04892 on any particular anatomical drawing by Stubbs. For Hilary Spurling, Kneale's sculpture revealed some similarities with Stubbs' drawings:

Its formal beauty is matched by a fierce, at times almost destructive urge to scrutinise, test and penetrate first principles. In another medium, one might compare the results of these explorations to the lucidity and force of Stubbs' anatomical drawings of a chicken or a horse. Both artists submit to the same ruthless discipline of concision and elimination. It is an approach at once demanding, astringent and exhilarating; and it could hardly be better described than in Basil Taylor's analysis of Stubbs' attitude to pictorial design (a passage incidentally much admired by Kneale): ‘... How few English painters have regarded design as a matter of the disposing of weight and force through the control of masses, as the balance and counter balance of thrusts and lines of force, as a matter of dynamics. This was the method of Italian artists of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries such as Piero, Raphael or Titian, and yet the basis of their methods has seldom been understood or achieved by those who turned to them for inspiration. This is the method which Stubbs employed and obviously understood; it also explains, in a different order of things, the behaviour of living creatures whose posture, motion, coherence and stability depend upon a constantly changing and dynamic resolution of opposed forces...’

(Hilary Spurling, Bryan Kneale: Small Sculpture and Maquettes, exh. cat., Taranman 1977, p.8)

When interviewed by Bryan Robertson (Whitechapel Art Gallery exh. cat., 1966, p.14), Kneale noted that part of his fascination with Stubbs was to do with what he saw as a surrealist quality in the earlier artist's work:

It seems to me that far from English painting and sculpture having its basis in a literary tradition, it is essentially Surrealist in quality. I am thinking of roots, sources and derivations. You can go back as far as Stubbs', with ease, to find a paranoid vision - a strong way of putting it, admittedly, but I feel that this is the essential strength of English art. (I am thinking of the fowl, and horse, series of drawings of Stubbs, which go further than any objective vision, whatever his intention).

This entry has been approved by the artist.

Published in:
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996

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