Wednesday 25 April 2001
Mosè Angelo Tamburrini, sculptor: born Buenos Aires 29 November 1905: married 1934 Annette Rosenthal (one son; marriage dissolved 1949), 1950 Joan Clarke; died Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex 31 January 2001.
Chance and determination played big roles in the life of Mosè Tamburrini. Chance was crucial in the choice of where and how he lived and worked. Determination kept him on course, ensuring that his fine abilities as a sculptor would, after decades of neglect, be recognised.
Tamburrini was in his eighties when he had his first solo show. When others soon followed, the public rushed to buy his work.
"Mosè's direct carvings appear simple, effortless and fluent," says one of his dealers, Nicholas Bowlby. "But they were a result of hours of physical discomfort, mental stress and frustration, despair, elation and an uncompromising integrity."
Although of Italian descent, Tamburrini was born in Argentina, in Buenos Aires. His father, Nicola, was a master carver who travelled to wherever there was a demand for quality work in marble. He contributed to the opera house in Rio de Janeiro and the family spent time in the South of France.
When Mosè was aged seven, the Tamburrinis moved to London, where Nicola opened a studio in the Fulham Road. He and his assistants created garden statuary and Adam and Georgian chimney-pieces, and assisted artist-sculptors. Nicola and his wife Elisabetta ("Bettina") had three sons and two daughters, Mosè being the eldest. All the boys were to work as sculptor's masons in the family firm. Mosè seems to have been a serious, reflective child, from his father's library acquiring an interest in philosophy, which continued throughout his life and is revealed in his sculpture.
Having made some money, Nicola in 1922 decided to return to Italy. He leased a marble quarry at Carrara, a source of materials and inspiration for sculptors including Michelangelo and Henry Moore. Mosè began studying art in Viareggio, especially the work of Italian Renaissance masters.
Two years later, the Tamburrinis found it prudent to return to London. Mussolini and the Fascists were in the ascendant, creating a country uncomfortable for Nicola, who was sympathetic to the earlier traditions of Garibaldi and his 1,000 Redshirts.
In London, Mosè continued his studies at St Martin's School of Art, with a special interest in African and Egyptian sculpture, then inspiring sculptors as diverse as Frank Dobson, Jacob Epstein, A.H. Gerrard and Leon Underwood. Mosè was one of a tiny group of promising students at St Martin's chosen to study under Arthur Thompson, professor of anatomy at the Royal Academy Schools.
In 1935, Mosè felt sufficiently competent to set up a studio in Kensal Green as a carver and sculptor. When St Martin's moved to Cambridge, in 1939, on the outbreak of the Second World War, he had to give up his evening classes.
His career now received several setbacks. First, most of his early work was lost, damaged or destroyed. Secondly, by 1940, Nicola's health was fast declining, and Mosè gradually had to oversee the family business's journeyman work, depleting time available for his own. With his father's death in 1950, Mose, impelled by his strong sense of Italian family duty, determined that he must become managing director of N. Tamburrini. This he kept going until his mother's death, then in 1974 he sold up to concentrate on his own sculpture.
Exhibiting prospects were not good for an unknown artist in his early seventies. He had no continuous exhibiting record and was concentrating on sculpture, usually harder to sell than pictures. A breakthrough came in 1988 when, encouraged by his second wife, Joan, he had a successful solo show at a small gallery in Battle, Sussex. That outlet had to close, however, during the recession.
The following year, chance directed Joan Tamburrini to the John Hunt Gallery in Brightling, not far from where the Tamburrinis had settled in 1983 in Bexhill-on-Sea. The oast-house setting so appealed to her that she rushed home and told her husband "to eat a sandwich" while she gathered photographs of his sculptures and drove him to the gallery. Hunt was so impressed that he visited Mosé's studio, "said the work was stunning" and promised a solo show, in 1990.
At this, Mosé Tamburrini's artistry and singular craftsmanship were evident. Visitors brushed their hands contemplatively over his superbly crafted surfaces. Unlike the modeller or indirect carver, who first produces a maquette in a material such as clay as a pointer to his finished piece, the rarer direct carver works assuredly from the outset with hammer and chisel. Brancusi was Tamburrini's inspiration. "I am for rhythmic forms of line and movement, which requires simplification," he said.
Again, unusually, Tamburrini chose to cast limited-edition bronzes in runs of six or nine not from clay but from these direct carvings. Thus, attenuated, Giacometti-like figures or a more conventional torso originally carved in wood when cast might retain the grain in the bronze. To bring this out, the final patination colouring would emphasise that feature.
Tamburrini was scrupulous in matching the patination to the piece. Thus, his fast-selling sculpture of a naiad was patinated turquoise, to match her watery origins. A small torso of Lamia, as in the Keats poem, transformed by Hermes from a snake into a beautiful maiden, was coloured a suitable green. Icarus, a favourite Tamburrini subject, was burnished, appropriate for one who flew too near the sun.
After the 1990 Hunt Gallery show, recognition followed fast for the ageing Tamburrini. There was an exhibition at Bexhill Museum in 1993, the year he was naturalised a British subject and two years before he was elected an international affiliate of the Royal Society of British Sculptors at his first attempt. John Hunt in London and Nick Bowlby in Tunbridge Wells both staged shows, to celebrate Tamburrini's 90th birthday, in 1996. Into his nineties he continued producing, in Bowlby's words, "shapes from the first day of creation, unsullied and pure".
By David Buckman
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