Sir Eduardo Paolozzi (British, 1924-2005) The Artist as Hephaestus 264 cm. (104 in.) high

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Lot 110AR W
Sir Eduardo Paolozzi
(British, 1924-2005)
The Artist as Hephaestus 264 cm. (104 in.) high

£ 150,000 - 250,000
US$ 180,000 - 300,000
Sir Eduardo Paolozzi (British, 1924-2005)
The Artist as Hephaestus
signed 'Eduardo Paolozzi' (on the base of the right foot)
bronze with a brown patina
264 cm. (104 in.) high
Conceived in 1987


  • 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. 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. 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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    We are grateful to Dr Judith Collins for compiling this catalogue entry.

Saleroom notices

  • Please note this work is further signed, inscribed and dated 'LONDON 1987/Eduardo Paolozzi' (on the back of the neck).
Auction information

Bonhams' November sale achieved a number of high profile records, including the highest price in London that week within a sale of Modern British Art - Allies by Lawrence Holofcener fetched an impressive £409,250. The department are especially proud to have secured a new world auction record for Walter Richard Sickert. Painted circa 1904, Woman in Profile with Downcast Eyes was discovered in Australia and following intense bidding realised £229,250. Irish Art fared well too, with Paul Henry's charming Old-Age Pensioners going for £109,250 while Colin Middleton's iconic Muriel fetched £70,850 – both finding Irish buyers.

The next auction will take place on 29 May and closes for entry in April. Already consigned are museum quality works that are fresh to market by LS Lowry, FE McWilliam and Edward Seago, among others.

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