Sculptor Angela Conner collection at Dreweatts

The studio collection of revered British sculptor Angela Conner will be offered by Dreweatts in July, comprising 50 works spanning her lifetime.

The sale will encompass all aspects of her oeuvre, from her detailed bronze bust portraiture, to monumental installation works, her painting, sketching and spell-binding kinetic sculpture.

Queen Elizabeth II sitting for the sculptor Angela Conner
© William Burlington/AC Family Archive

The sale titled A Life in Sculpture will be offered as part of Dreweatts Modern & Contemporary Art Sale on July 11. Francesca Whitham, Picture Specialist in the Modern and Contemporary Art department at Dreweatts, said: “It is a pleasure to offer the studio collection of Angela Conner, a pioneer in the field of sculpture, whose works will always have the ability to inspire and evoke emotion and fascination.”

Among the bronze works is a portrait bust of the late Queen of England, Elizabeth II, commissioned by the Knights of the Garter (the world’s oldest national order of knighthood), in celebration of the Queen’s 80th birthday in 2006. The bust was created by Angela in real-life sittings with the Queen, in the Chinese room at Buckingham Palace.

John Bulmer, Angela Conner’s husband recounts that the Queen asked how many sittings it would take, to which Angela replied that she couldn’t say: “because I don’t know when I’ve finished, until I have”. The Queen understood and kindly dedicated five to six sittings of two hours each to the project. Each sitting was captured on film by the British photographer Bill Burlington (William Cavendish, Earl of Burlington b. 1969). The Queen is portrayed looking straight forward with a firm gaze, with a three-strand pearl necklace draped around her neck. Ten of the busts were made, with one sitting at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor. This version is number three out of the ten and carries an estimate of £8,000-£12,000.

A sculpture bust of Queen Elizabeth II by Angela Connor
Credit: Dreweatts


Angela’s Royal patronage also includes a bust of His Majesty King Charles III, which is also featured in the sale. It was commissioned by the Duke of Devonshire in 1995 for the Chatsworth collection and depicts the former Prince of Wales looking off into the distance. It is a delicate, yet powerful bronze sculpture of the future King. Dated 1995 and numbered 4/10 it carries an estimate of £4,000-£6,000. Commenting on Angela’s portrait busts, Francesca Whitham said: “Her ability to capture a person in clay, in such precise detail, is exceptional and I believe this is driven by her ability to feel an emotional connection to her sitters and allowing this interaction to take over the physical practice of modelling.”

A bust of King Charles III by the sculptor Angela Conner
Credit: Dreweatts

Among other bronze portraits of well-known figures is a rather arresting bust of the late British artist Lucian Freud (1922-2011). Renowned for the creation of his own distinctive and often raw style portraits and figurative works of other people, Freud was famously difficult to convince to sit for other artists. For this reason, few portraits of Freud exist and Angela’s bust here is one of only a handful produced. We are told that it took quite a while for Angela to persuade Freud to look her in the eye, but she persevered and was then able to connect more fully with him. This relationship with her sitter was very important to Angela, in order to truly capture their character, she said in an interview in 2000: “You certainly have to get to know them; there’s no question. You have to peel off the layers.” The bust was commissioned by Andrew Cavendish, 11th Duke of Devonshire (1920-2004) and was exhibited at the Chatsworth Theatre Gallery in 1975, alongside busts of other prominent British figures. It carries an estimate of £20,000-£30,000.

A sculpture of the artist Lucien Freud by the sculptor Angela Conner
Credit: Dreweatts

Andrew Cavendish, 11th Duke of Devonshire (1920-2004) was Angela’s greatest patron, as well as a close friend. She was introduced to him by her brother-in-law, the playwright, John Osborne in 1964 and he soon became an advocate and keen collector of her work, at one point owning over forty of her sculptures, including busts of prominent British politicians, Royalty, writers and celebrities and as larger garden sculptures. He was so impressed by Angela’s work, that she was asked to produce portraits of the Duke of Devonshire himself and his Family, which were exhibited in 1975 at the Chatsworth Theatre Gallery. (Chatsworth is the seat of the Duke of Devonshire and has belonged to the Cavendish family since 1549).

Other portrait busts of notable figures in the sale include a bronze of the renowned English poet laureate, writer and broadcaster, Sir John Betjeman (1906-1984), which took 12 hours to complete, estimated at £2,000-£3,000. A bust of British author Ian Fleming (1908-1964), famous for writing the James Bond novels, was commissioned by his great friend, the Jamaican heiress Blanche Blackwell (1912-2017) and was displayed at Goldeneye, Fleming’s house in Jamaica. It was one of the very few post-humous works created by Angela, who preferred working from life and numerous sittings with her subjects, estimated at £600-£800. The great actor Laurence Olivier (1907-1989), known for his Shakespearean roles, is captured by Angela in a moment of pause and concentration, while in character as Hamlet, estimate of £400-£600. His leadership as a founding Director of the National Theatre in London helped shape the future of theatre in Britain and in 2007, a large sculpture by Angela of Olivier as Hamlet was unveiled outside the theatre, commissioned by the Laurence Olivier Centenary Statue Appeal. Among other public sculpture commissions is the figure of Noel Coward resting on the balcony of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London and a life-size sculpture of Charles de Gaulle at Carlton Gardens, St. James, London.

A lifelong passion for horses has resulted in many bronze encapsulations of them in Angela’s repertoire, as well as artworks where they form the main subject. She says: “One of the reasons I love riding is that I love the way a pair of fine reins can control the movement of a massive form.” A bronze horse in the sale titled Classical Way is number 2 out of an edition of five and carries an estimate of £800-£1,200.

As well as bronze Angela works in other materials, such as steel, marble, perspex and stone, with many of her sculptures incorporating water as a central feature and the exploration of balance is one of her main themes. The creation of her first Kinetic sculpture arose through the British-born American philanthropist and arts patron, Drue Heinz, (DBE 1915-2018), who having seen Angela’s work, commissioned her to create a sculpture titled Quartet for the front of the Pittsburgh Symphony Hall. The sculpture had four components and just like the musicians in an orchestra, the flow of water was directed from one to the other. Playing with equilibrium is one of the key attributes of Angela’s work.

Among Angela’s more abstract works is Counterpoise which is representative of Angela’s fascination with the effects of nature on both natural landscapes and man-made objects. Produced in 2006, it consists of six segments which lie horizontally beside one another, fixed by a central axis. The work is intended to be installed in the middle of nature and viewed from afar as the wind and elements play with the sculpture, causing a meditative rippling motion and giving an endlessly varying pattern of movement. Talking about the work, Angela says: “As a child I was always observing nature, wind and water and seeing how movement from these natural forces could be involved with many shapes.” The work was created in onyx marble dust, suspended in resin and stainless steel. It is from an edition of eight and carries an estimate of £7,000-£10,000.

Counterpoise by Angela Conner
Credit: Dreweatts

Also in the sale is a smaller version of Angela’s celebrated Wave sculpture installed at Park West Plaza, Dublin, Ireland in 2003 (commissioned by patron Pat Doherty,) is also included in the sale. The large version is a high wind and water mobile, standing at 129 ft. It comprises a counterweight balanced on a stainless armature, allowing the sculpture to move with the wind and come back to rest centrally. Water jets make a light spray, in order to create a rainbow. The smaller version is 105 cm high and is created in wood and marble. It carries an estimate of £100-£150.

Genesis is made up of individual rings of highly polished stainless steel, reflecting the light as the work is affected by the wind, or interior air movement. The reflected images in the steel are constantly changing, creating a static piece which gives the notion of constant movement. Executed in 2004 and from an edition of three, it carries an estimate of £12,000-£18,000.

Genesis by the sculptor Angela Conner
Credit: Dreweatts

Francesca Whitham concluded: “What has become apparent over the last couple of months as I have spent time with Angela’s works is the intense passion and determination that formed each piece. I have been particularly struck by Angela’s close connection to nature, which sits at the core of her work. Whether this may be through the exploration of the effects of wind, the sun or experimenting with balance and forces – it is these elements and the way they are intertwined in Angela’s work which makes it so exceptional.”