© The Artist


Barry Flanagan (1941 – 2009)


309.2 X 226 X 91.4 O
Accession number


At the time of writing, Barry Flanagan’s Large Mirror Niijnskistands outside the British Council offices just off London’s Trafalgar Square. The British Council Collection is usually toured all around the world, but here the world comes to it: tourists of all nationalities photograph each other one leg and both arms swung forwards, copying the two hares’ loping movement.

Erected a few months before his death,[1] this seems a fitting tribute to a man who described himself as an “English-speaking itinerant European sculptor”, but maintained what Catherine Lampert called “a rather British (or Celtic) understatement and playfulness”.[2] The image of the hare appealed to both of these attributes, cropping up as it does as a character in the myths the world over, generally with both exuberance and spirituality. Another attribute, athleticism, helps them here to channel the brilliant, and later mad energy of Russian ballet dancer Vaslav Nijinsky, whom Flanagan in turn had experienced through the French sculptor August Rodin’s 1912 roughly-moulded model. After seeing it in an exhibition in Washington in 1981, he made a number of pieces in response. The series continued on to a 1996 work that stood, in Summer 2009, up the road in the forecourt the Royal Academy, where Flanagan had been a member since 1991.

The hare form proves ideal for expressing the joy in physical movement which Nijinsky came to characterise. “If you consider what conveys situation and meaning and feeling in a human figure”, Flanagan argued,

“the range of expression is in fact far more limited than the device of investing an animal – a hare especially – with the expressive attributes of a human being. The ears, for instance, are really able to convey far more than a squint in the eye of a figure, or a grimace on the face of a model.”[3]

They take their substance, bronze, as far away from the reassuring solidity of the military monumental statues that fill this part of London as is imaginable. Shifting to its use in 1979 had represented “a move from the private world to the public”[4] for a sculptor who had previously worked with sacking, rope and sand; and was more practically-suited to the environment than the fibreglass that had been vandalised in a public piece for Laundress Green, Cambridge in 1972. A sense of life and motion is drawn out by a roughly flowing surface that contrasts with the smoothness of their angular, lamppost-like bases; the apparent thumbprints build towards a real, surprising elegance.

On first sight, they look to be twins cast from the same mould, but that would not produce a mirror image. As the ball balanced on one of their feet emphasises, they are more separate living things, playfully mimicking each other’s steps. With their ears expressively tilted at different angles, they encourage passers-by to join in their little jig.

Tom Overton, 2010.

[1]22nd May 2010.
[2] Catherine Lampert, ‘Barry Flanagan’ (Obituary), The Guardian, 1st September 2009.
[3] The Art Magazine, July 1982, p.39.
[4] Bruce Arnold, Mel Gooding & Hans Ulrich Obrist, ed. Enrico Juncosa, Barry Flanagan: Sculpture 1965-2005 (Dublin: Irish Museum of Modern Art/Dublin City Library, 2006), p.179.