6th December 2011



David Backhouse, Anita Mandl and Nicola Toms each highlight a different aspect of the animal kingdom from domestic animals who have given their lives in the service of man, through commonly known and loved wild animals to the untamed beasts of the African bush.  Bringing these works together highlights man’s often ambiguous relationship with animals.   In these sculptures the animals are celebrated and revered while many of the species depicted are under threat as they are hunted or their natural habitat destroyed.  The works are reasonably small in scale following the tradition of European animalier sculpture – precious works of art that can be displayed in an intimate domestic setting.

David Backhouse grew up in Wiltshire and was surrounded by domestic animals from an early age.  He is particularly interested in the relationship between man and animals and is best known for his large scale  Animals in War Memorial located on London’s, Park Lane which celebrates the enormous contributions made by animals during the conflicts of the 20th century.   The gallery is extremely fortunate to be offering several maquettes for the memorial, a  gunnery mule, dogs and horses which are not only outstanding works of art but have a historic significance.

His work celebrates the dignity and loyalty of domestic animals and in many ways is a comment on both the human and animal condition.  He has long been fascinated by the half-human, half-animal figures of Egyptian mythology as well as the integration of animals and humans found in the Elgin Marbles. David commented, ‘My sculptures are reflections on the human and animal condition in the modern world reflecting loss and tragedy, hope and delight and above all tenacity of spirit’.

Backhouse is one of Britain’s best known and most outstanding figurative sculptors whose other public commissions include The Dolphin Family for London’s Docklands, Pilgrim for the Bishop’s Palace Garden, Wells, and Cloaked Horseman for St.Bartholomew’s, Bristol City Centre.  He is a fellow of the Royal Society of British sculptors, has exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy and the Royal West of England Academy in Bristol and held numerous exhibitions in London, the regions, Europe and the USA.

Anita Mandl is a trained zoologist who joined the staff of the Medical School, University  of Birmingham. While working in animal research, she undertook evening classes in sculpture at Birmingham College of Art, before moving to Devon and becoming a full-time sculptor in 1965.  Animals were her natural choice of subject and her interest lies in depicting them in a pared down simplified form. Brancusi has been the biggest influence on her work.  The pieces are reduced to semi- abstract form but retain a marvellous sense of characterisation.  There is often an underlying sense of humour in the choice of animals – her baboons and guerrillas can have an uncanny resemblance to humans.

Mandl  is a carver, working in alabaster, soap stone and marble.  The animal is dictated by the shape of the piece of stone.  The challenge lies in carving the piece and how it will emerge from the rough stone.  Her natural preference is for animals which give themselves to smooth rounded forms such as otters, penguins and bears.   They are contented well-fed creatures who examine us inquisitively but serenely. Her pieces are cast as bronzes from the original carvings at the famous  Pangolin foundry near Gloucester.  The artist has shown widely in London and the regions, including the Royal Academy, London, and the Royal West of England Academy, Bristol.  She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of British Sculptors.

The third sculptor, Nicola Toms, grew up on a cattle ranch in Zimbabwe where her nearest neighbours lived ten miles away.  She spent her childhood surrounded by both game and cattle and was constantly at her father’s side as he drove around the family ranch.

Toms studied graphic art in Harare and then moved permanently to London in 1993.  The biggest influence on her work are the French animalier sculptors and in particular Rembrandt Bugatti.   In her work she aims to create convincing form through her understanding of anatomy and at the same time portray the subtle characterisation of the animals through her sensitive observation of detail.

Some of her work also has an underlying sense of humour, ‘A trotting sow’s undulating folds of flesh jostling in tandem; baby elephants fearless and playfully imitating mock charges.  That youthful desire to play and experiment reminds me of how closely linked we all are on this small planet’ explained Toms.

She has had numerous solo exhibitions in London and the Provinces and undertaken many private commissions.  Works on view to the public include a life-size Bull at Cranborne Manor, in Dorset, and crocodiles perched on lanterns outside Home House, a private members club on Portman Square, in London’s West End

The Animal Kingdom exhibition is running at the gallery in conjunction with Camera to Camera: Historic Domestic Interiors.  An Exhibition by New York Artist, Tim Kent.   These superbly realized   sculptures complement the precious and intimate atmosphere of Kent’s interiors.