British artist Turnbull mellows with posthumous show

BAKEWELL, England Fri Mar 8, 2013 10:00am GMT

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BAKEWELL, England (Reuters) - British artist William Turnbull, a figurehead of the post-war modernist movement, is finally embracing the mainstream four months after his death with an exhibition that spans the indoor and outdoor spaces of one of England's grandest stately homes.

A selection of works by Turnbull, known for his sculptures in bronze as well as abstract expressionist paintings, will be showcased at Chatsworth House, a 16th century estate in the Peak District, central England, from March 10 to June 30.

"William Turnbull at Chatsworth" charts the evolution of Turnbull's work over four decades and documents his take on themes such as the head, totems and primitive tools.

Scottish-born Turnbull, who died in November aged 90, was little known to the general public thanks to his reluctance to embrace celebrity and a row with a powerful U.S. critic which cast him adrift from the international art scene.

His supporters hope the show, and a documentary on his influence due to be broadcast by the BBC next week, will finally earn Turnbull the popularity they believe he deserves.

"It's the establishment validation that he's never had," said Alex Turnbull, William's son, who co-curated the show.

"There is no creative person who doesn't like it when people like their work, you can't be a punk all your life. You have to mellow out and Bill did. He would have loved this, it is a great shame that he couldn't see it."

The exhibition begins in dramatic fashion. Visitors take a winding route through some of Chatsworth's elegant Regency-style rooms before the vibrant colours of Turnbull's abstract oil painting "Head" jump into view at the end of a long corridor.

PLEASE DO TOUCH

Outside the imposing house, some of Turnbull's sculptures, including the dark and imposing "Large Horse", are scattered on the sprawling Salisbury lawns and throughout the tranquil rock pool.

A splash of colour comes from Turnbull's more linear steel sculptures placed in the verdant Chatsworth maze. There the exhibition finishes with a series of the artist's later pieces, mainly in his favourite medium of bronze, many of which are reminiscent of tools like arrowheads and spades.

Visitors are invited to touch the smooth sculptures and trace the engravings on their surfaces, a trademark of Turnbull's pieces.

The exhibition came to life thanks to a request from the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, Peregrine and Amanda Cavendish, the owners of Chatsworth House, a location already renowned for its extensive art collection containing works by Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Lucian Freud.

"We happen to be interested in the contemporary and modern, particularly the outdoors stuff, so we were naturally led to Turnbull," the duke said.

Cavendish, the 12th Duke of Devonshire, recently sold a rare Raphael drawing for a record 29.7 million pounds ($44.7 million)through Sotheby's auctioneers, of which he is deputy chairman. The funds from the sale were expected to go towards the upkeep of the Chatsworth estate.

The Duke said he reluctantly let go of the piece and had no plans to sell anything else from his collection.

"We don't like selling if we can help it but we had to do that and that went very well indeed," he said.

($1 = 0.6645 British pounds)

(Reporting by Clare Hutchison; editing by Mike Collett-White)

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