A Reputation Set in Stone – Bonhams To Sell Works Form Australian Artists Cornish Studio

. March 7, 2008

A collection of works by the Australian-born artist Barbara Tribe (1913-2000) will go under the hammer at Bonhams in Knightsbridge, on 20 May 2008. Over 200 lots of sculpture, watercolours and ceramics from the artist’s studio in Cornwall are to be sold by the Barbara Tribe Foundation. The collection charts Tribe’s extraordinary life, from her early career in Australia to her years in war-torn London and Cornwall. Although Tribe was predominantly known for her sculpture, the sale explores the many media she embraced.

Tribe’s seminal work, Caprice, forms the centrepiece of the collection of works, estimated at £20,000-30,000. The bronze figure, which was modelled on the famous Australian model of the period, Iris Spicer, undoubtedly changed the course of Tribe’s life. Aged 22 and living in Sydney, Tribe entered the sculpture for the New South Wales Travelling Art Scholarship. The assured, powerful modelling of Caprice ensured that Tribe became the first woman to win the scholarship, which brought her to England. The sister cast of Caprice is displayed in the Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide.

Also included in the sale is a bronze head of Winston Churchill which Tribe modelled after a brief encounter with the Prime Minister during the Second World War. Tribe remained in London after her scholarship and was one of a number of artists engaged in the War to record historic buildings considered to be at risk from bombing. Tribe met Churchill whilst recording the interior of his office in No.10 Downing Street. The Prime Minister was outraged by her unexpected presence and rudely ejected her. Although the encounter was fleeting, Tribe was able to model Churchill’s head from memory. She gave the original to Lady Churchill for her “Red Cross Aid to Russia Fund” and presented it to her at Chequers.

After the War Tribe visited Cornwall and immediately fell in love with the area. She moved into an old Sunday School at Sheffield, Penzance, with her future husband the architect John Singleman, and converted it into a studio. Tribe lived in the house for the rest of her life and worked alongside some of the most influential British artists of her time. She became a Lecturer in Modelling and Sculpture at the Penzance School of Art, where she remained for 40 years, whilst her husband re-trained as a potter under Bernard Leach. She exhibited extensively throughout her career at the Royal Academy, the Royal Society of British Sculptors, the Society of Portrait Sculptors and the Royal West of England Academy. Tribe remained emotionally tied to her native land and many examples of her work can be found in the collections of Australia’s major public galleries.

Although she is known predominantly as a sculptor Tribe refused to limit herself to one medium. Born to experiment, the body of her work includes portrait heads, figure and animal studies, ceramic sculptures, coiled pots, wood and stone carvings, as well as gouaches, watercolours and drawings. She drew inspiration from a myriad of cultures as well as her own experiences in Australia and England. A constant theme throughout her work is the miracle of creation, growth and regeneration, although her work can be best described by her own words “Truth – simple realism – is my aim”.

The range and originality of Tribe’s work is reflected in the sale which includes sculptures of servicemen from the War, grasshoppers, lovers, aboriginal dancers, parrots, reclining nudes, kookaburras, embryos and Adam and Eve.

Tribe’s boundless enthusiasm for her work lasted until she died aged 87, bearing testament to a vow she once made not to stop working since “an artist never retires”. The last entry she made in her diary concerned the perfect colour of a grasshopper which she had just created and was written with an eagerness normally found in beginners.

Tim Goodman, Chairman of Bonhams and Goodman says:
“Bonhams are delighted to be involved in the sale of the studio contents of the late Barbara Tribe. She was a very diverse artist, and the sale will include many of her sketches and watercolours as well as the sculptures for which she is best remembered. As an Australian who spent much of her life in Cornwall her appeal spans the world and we expect equal interest from collectors both in Australia and England”.

The Barbara Tribe Foundation was set up under Tribe’s Will, after her death in 2000, to further the artist’s desire to aid the development and appreciation of sculpture in Australia. It is proposed from mid 2008 the funds generated by the Foundation and projects initiated under its auspices, will be administered by the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.

Category: Auction News

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