John Skeaping

Blood Horse


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Not on display

John Skeaping 1901–1980
Object: 692 × 746 × 356 mm
Purchased 1944

Catalogue entry


White pinewood on original oak base, 692 x 746 x 356 mm (27 1/4 x 29 1/2 x 14 in)
Incised by the artist ‘JRS | 29 | SKEAPING’ on underside of horse’s neck
Purchased from the estate of Sir Michael Sadler through the Leicester Galleries, London (Knapping Fund) 1944

Purchased from the artist by Sydney Burney, from whom bought by Sir Michael Sadler, 1932; his estate, 1944

First Exhibition of the Young Painters Society, New Burlington Galleries, London, March-Apr. 1930 (329)
London Sculpture by John Skeaping and Barbara Hepworth, Arthur Tooth & Sons, London, Oct.-Nov. 1930 (31, as ‘lent by Sydney Burney, Esq.’)
Selected Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture from the Collection of the late Sir Michael Sadler, Leicester Galleries, London, Jan.-Feb. 1944, 2nd ed. (151)
Decade 1920-30, Arts Council tour, Leicester Museum and Art Gallery, Feb.-March 1970, Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, March-April, Doncaster, Museum and Art Gallery, April-May, Manchester City Art Gallery, May-June, Bristol City Art Gallery, June-July, Camden Arts Centre, Aug. 1970 (31)
The Thirties: British Art and Design before the War, Hayward Gallery, London, Oct. 1979-Jan. 1980 (6.40)
Summer Exhibition, Royal Academy, London, May-Aug. 1980 (1182)
British Sculpture in the Twentieth Century, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, Sept. 1981-Jan. 1982 (part 1, 144)

John Grierson, ‘The New Generation in Sculpture’, Apollo, vol.12, no.71, Nov. 1930, p.349 (repr.)
Michael Sadleir, Michael Ernest Sadler, London 1949, pp.388-9
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, Tate Gallery: The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, II, London 1965, p.645
Nicholas Hely-Hutchinson, ‘The Reluctant Modernist: John R. Skeaping, R.A. 1901-1980’, unpublished MA Dissertation, University of St Andrews 1982, p.27, pl.13
Penelope Curtis, Modern British Sculpture from the Collection, Tate Gallery Liverpool, 1988, p.41 (repr.)
Un siècle de sculpture anglaise, exh. cat., Jeu de Paume, Paris 1996, p.485 (repr.)

Stanley Casson, ‘The Role of Sculpture in Contemporary Life’, Studio, vol.115, June 1938, p.311
Stanley Casson, Sculpture of Today, London 1939, p.119
Frances Spalding, British Art Since 1900, London 1986, p.101, pl.84
Antonio Maraini, Scultori oggi: 1930, Francesco Bardazzi (ed.), Florence 1986, pl.71

The subject of the horse was of primary interest to John Skeaping, in his capacities as sportsman and as sculptor. In the period around 1930, it was rivalled only by the human figure as a focus for his exploration of form, and may be contrasted with his often more naturalistic treatment of other animal subjects. He had worked with farm horses as a boy but, according to his memoirs, it was around 1929 that he learned to ride ‘really well’,[1] a passion that he was able to indulge more actively after the collapse of his marriage to Hepworth. It is characteristic, therefore, that he used a breeding term for the title: a ‘blood horse’ is a thoroughbred, descended from the Arabian horses imported for racing in the eighteenth century.

In contrast to most of his contemporary pieces, Blood Horse was carved in a soft pine, the light colour of which was enhanced by staining and waxing. The form of the flat sawn half log remained visible both in the strong grain and in the straight cut of the neck. Radial splitting in the end grain at the back of the head was filled at an early date. Apart from some minor scratches and splinters on the left ear and lip, the sculpture is in a sound condition although its oak stem required consolidation in 1988.[2] Gouge marks are evident at the neck and lower jaw. As the pine was easily carved, it may be that Skeaping chose it in order to complete the work in a short period of time. The sculpture was amongst the illustrations in an article by John Grierson, a colleague of Skeaping’s at Armstrong College in Newcastle during the latter’s preparation for the Prix de Rome (1923-4) and identified by Penelope Curtis as the ‘wood carver’ from whom Skeaping said he learned his craft.[3] Listing stones and woods (ending with pine) used by Skeaping and Hepworth, Grierson stressed that their variety was impressive: ‘Kept in their place - that is to say, carved not only for their surface qualities but for their individual contribution to the power and impressiveness of the design - these woods and stones give scope to the carver’s hand’.[4]

The characteristics of the pine emboldened the design of Blood Horse. The knot on the left side of the head provides a point of focus, relating to the stylised curve of the jaw and determining the jagged splitting which haloes the eye. The head is nearly life-size, but the flatness of the sides of the block has been emphasised and the features reduced. The size anticipated that of The Horse (Tate N06129) where the dramatic open mouth and nostrils recur. Though derived from direct experience, this detail recalls the horses of the Parthenon frieze with which the artist would have been familiar - both in the original and through casts - as a student. Blood Horse may be seen to be a remaking of this classical theme in a modern sensibility.

The first owner of Blood Horse was Sydney Burney, in whose gallery Skeaping had shown another horse in 1928 in the Exhibition of Modern and African Sculpture.[5] Such cross-cultural comparisons were in tune with the interests of the ‘new movement’ in sculpture in which Skeaping was a major figure alongside Hepworth and Moore. Burney’s instructively entitled Sculpture Considered Apart from Time and Place (November 1932) typified this approach. Blood Horse was not exhibited, as Sir Michael Sadler had already acquired it in February,[6] during a campaign of purchasing in 1932-3.[7] In the process Sadler demonstrated his awareness of contemporary sculpture in a lecture on the revolutionary nature of art in July 1932; choosing seven names representative of those causing alarm amongst the conservative he cited ‘Epstein, Dobson, Skeaping and Henry Moore ... Matisse, Picasso and Braque’.[8] His lecture was accompanied by a display of his collection and reflected its contents at that date.

Matthew Gale
December 1996

[1] John Skeaping, Drawn from Life: An Autobiography, London 1977, p.90.

[2] Tate conservation files.
[3] Penelope Curtis, ‘Barbara Hepworth and the Avant Garde of the 1920s’, Barbara Hepworth: A Retrospective, exh. cat., Tate Gallery Liverpool 1994, p.13; Skeaping 1977, p.72.
[4] John Grierson, ‘The New Generation in Sculpture’, Apollo, vol.12, no.71, Nov. 1930, p.349.

[5] Exhibition of Modern and African Sculpture, Nov.-Dec. 1928.
[6] Burney invoice, 11 Feb. 1932 as ‘Horse’s Head’, Sadler papers, Tate Archive TGA 8221.1.3.
[7] Michael Sadleir, Michael Ernest Sadler, London 1949, pp.388-9.
[8] Modern Art and Revolution, London 1932, p.5.

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