Elisabeth Frink: Natural Connection

20 Jul 2024-23 Feb 2025

Yorkshire Sculpture Park
Wakefield WF4 4LG


The career of Dame Elisabeth Frink (1930-1993) has in recent years been reappraised and her significant contribution to British art is widely acknowledged. Frink had a warm relationship with YSP, which included her outdoor retrospective in 1983. A major exhibition had been in the planning when she passed away, resulting in a poignant memorial in 1993, and her work has regularly been shown since. Frink’s late son, Lin Jammet, arranged for 200 works to enter the YSP collection, comprising larger-than-life-size bronze figures, watercolours, domestic-scale bronzes and related plasters as well as personal artefacts such as her studio sitters’ chair. The selection illustrates his mother’s deep understanding of different aspects of humanity in relation with animals – both natural and domesticated.

This exhibition is drawn from the YSP collection: bronzes, plasters and works on paper in The Weston Gallery share different aspects of Frink’s exceptional output as well as insight into her process. The artist made sculptures by first creating a metal or wood armature, which she built up with layers of plaster before shaping them through carving and chiselling. These models would then be cast in bronze, retaining the raw vitality of the artist’s hand. Two of her key subjects were dogs and horses, noble animals humbled by labour or injured as unwilling participants in warfare. These are shown in the gallery alongside beautiful lithographs that reflect the artist’s care for the natural world including native British species such as hares, badgers and kestrels. Also on display is a series of etchings representing ancient Greek myths – a salutary reminder of the repeated histories, habits and tragedies of our species.

Frink was one of the post-war British artists who reflected lived experience of warfare and throughout her life she had nightmares of black wings beating around her. She was left with a deep understanding of the complexities of man, our capacity for evil and the ways it can be masked.

She made many sculptures of male figures which often embodied a conflict between strength and vulnerability. This is embodied by the three Riace figures shown in the landscape, inspired by two fifth-century BCE Greek statues known as the Riace Warriors.

She was both intrigued and repelled by these symbols of violence and explained that the painted masks are “a way of showing that their beauty in a sense hides what they are up to”. Also in the landscape is the iconic sculpture of Judas who for Frink embodied the frailties of human behaviour and the violence of its consequences.

Dame Elisabeth Frink CH DBE RA was a leading figure in British sculpture during the second half of the 20th century. She spent her childhood living near a military airbase during the Second World War, which had a great impact on her world view and artwork. She studied at the Guildford School of Art and Chelsea School of Art and was part of a postwar group of British sculptors described as the Geometry of Fear school.