William Turnbull


William Turnbull (b. 1922, Dundee, Scotland; d. 2012, London, England) was a Scottish sculptor and painter. He is known for figurative and minimalist sculpture, as well as abstract painting. Early disappointment with the British art world, the Slade School of Art in particular, led Turnbull to move to Paris in the late 1940s. There he met Brancusi and Giacometti whose influence remained with him when he returned to London in 1950. Turnbull became a key member of the ‘Independent Group’ of artists, writers, and architects working at the ICA, which included Richard Hamilton and Eduardo Paolozzi. By focusing art on the realities of the modern world, the ‘Independent Group’ was a major influence on British Pop Art. In his sculpture, Turnbull forges a tension between balance, movement and stillness, informed by his time as an RAF pilot in the Indian subcontinent during the war. The experience of flying, ‘primitive’ art, ancient Greek sculpture and other sources greatly shaped Turnbull’s desire to locate, form and transmit elemental energy through his work. In Britain, Turnbull personifies the post-war break with academic tradition and romanticism; henceforth art could draw on direct expression, popular culture and ancient references.


Turnbull’s first one-man exhibition was held at the Hanover Gallery, London (1950). He represented Britain in a group exhibition at the Venice Biennale (1952) and has exhibited in many solo and group exhibitions both in Britain and internationally. In 1973, a retrospective exhibition of his work was held at the Tate Gallery, London, and in 1982 he took part in British Sculpture in the Twentieth century at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London. He had a retrospective at the Serpentine Gallery, London (1995–96) and a major solo exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park (2005) and the Duveen Galleries, Tate Britain in 2006. In 2013, Chatsworth House hosted a large exhibition of Turnbull’s paintings, drawings and sculptures.

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