18 June 2012

Portrait Sculpture at Holburne Bath

Presence: The Art of Portrait Sculpture, now on at the Holburne Museum in Bath is a small but cleverly selected exhibition exploring whether sculptors are pursuing realism or idealisation when they create solid portraits. The show starts with an immediate challenge in the form of a waxwork of Henry Moore (left), who rejected sculpture as portraiture, then moves on through classical sculpture and death masks to posthumous representation in the form of various busts of Shakespeare. These may have been tenuous as likenesses but were considered appropriate for Britain’s greatest literary figure.

Some fine 18th century busts (in particular Louis François Roubiliac’s of fellow-sculptor Joseph Walton) lead on to more modern pieces. Two sculptors’ depictions of their wives, Conrad Dressler’s 1898 coloured bust and Don Brown’s full-length Yoko XXI (right), may be 110 years apart but raise similar issues over artistic objectivity. The latter inevitably contrasts with the demure bronze Degas dancer nearby.

The 20th century is represented by portrait busts from the 1920s by Epstein and Frank Dobson (Sacheverell Sitwell, left) and later, and even less figurative, works by Giacometti and Brancusi. Contemporary works by Daphne Wright (double portrait Sons’ Heads) and Ron Mueck’s over-sized self-portrait Mask II (below), like Brown’s, raise in different ways the possibility of being too realistic to be true.

This thought-provoking show continues until 2 September .

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