An eight foot tall bronze self portrait of Sir Eduardo Paolozzi (1924-2005) titled The Artist as Hephaestus, conceived in 1987, will be sold in Bonhams 20th Century British and Irish art sale on November 14th in New Bond Street. It is estimated to make £150,000-250,000.
The Artist as Hephaestus was commissioned by the London and Paris Property Group for the front facade of their new offices at 34‐36 High Holborn, London, WC1. The commission stipulated that the work should incorporate a self‐portrait of the artist.
Matthew Bradbury, Head of Bonhams 20th Century British and Irish Art Department, comments: ““Having been on prominent public display for 25 years in Central London, we are delighted to announce the sale of this monumental and seminal Paolozzi tour de force. Among the largest sculptures by the artist ever offered at auction, it is of special interest, being a self-portrait.”
Hephaestus was the Greek god of technology, sculptors, blacksmiths, fire and metals. His Roman equivalent was Vulcan. As a metalworker, Hephaestus made all the weapons and other items for the other gods, such as Eros’s bow and arrows, Achilles’s armour and Hermes winged helmet and sandals. When depicted in earlier art, his symbols are a blacksmith’s hammer and tongs, and an anvil. He was described as of unsightly appearance, and was lame, with crippled feet.
Since the beginning of his career, Paolozzi has been interested in classical Greek sculpture, and in 1946 made collages which combined images of renowned Greek sculptures with machine parts, marking the beginning of his interest in the fusion of man and machine. One of Hephaestus’s great innovations was that he built bronze automatons to work for him, a legend that would have delighted Paolozzi, and would be a major reason why he presented himself in this guise. From the mid1980s Paolozzi treated the human figure rather like an automaton, composing it as a collection of fragmented geometric shapes, and The Artist as Hephaestus is no exception. The figure does not carry the traditional symbols for the Greek God, but instead holds two sievelike objects and an openwork sphere, with the larger sieve sourced from the used part of a washing machine.
Celia Scott, the portrait sculptor, made a bronze portrait bust of Paolozzi in 1983, as a commission from the architect Charles Jencks. A good friend of Paolozzi, Jencks was decorating his London house, and installing fireplaces incorporating busts. He asked Scott to make the bust of Paolozzi personifying Vulcan/Hephaestus, for the fireplace of his ‘winter’ room. The bust was given a beard, a hairy chest and the folds of a chiton. Scott gave Paolozzi a plaster cast of this (collection Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh) and Paolozzi turned to this to assist him in making a small plaster self‐portrait, a copy of which the National Portrait Gallery purchased in 1988, at the time of their exhibition Paolozzi Portraits.
Paolozzi made the life‐size model for The Artist as Hephastus from plaster and polystyrene. This is 264 cm./104 in. high, and shows the figure adopting a slightly more upright confrontational pose than that found in the two earlier bronzes. Paolozzi gave this plaster/polystyrene model to the National Portrait Gallery in 1990.
As was his usual practice, Paolozzi made two preliminary works related to The Artist as Hephaestus. The first is a bronze figure titled Selfportrait with a Strange Machine, 85.1cm./ 33 1/2 in. high, and the second is another bronze figure called Portrait of the Artist as Vulcan, which is 149.9cm./59 in. high, both of which were shown at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in 1987. Selfportrait with a Strange Machine was bought by the National Portrait Gallery in 1987, and another version of this cast is in the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, presented by the artist in 1998. Portrait of the Artist as Vulcan was sold at Christie’s London on 17 November 2006.
Paolozzi returned to the mythic figure of Hephastus/Vulcan in 1999, creating a huge figure of Vulcan from welded steel, which stands 730 cm. high in the double height gallery in Modern Two at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh. He made it for this space and in response to a commission from the gallery and its Patrons group.