The title of this work is taken from Balzac’s 1831 story The Unknown Masterpiece, later illustrated by Picasso and celebrated by Dore Ashton in her book A Fable of Modern Art. In the novel, the painter Frenhofer has for years been engaged in secret on a work which is eventually revealed to be a confusion of colour and line, with the model’s foot as the only recognisable element. The story is a prophetic description of the risks of public incomprehension and of doubt or self–deception on the part of the modern artist.
Tucker’s Frenhofer is, at first sight, a formless lump, suggestive of cloud or rock formations, which on closer inspection seems to resolve itself into a torso, either that of a pregnant woman or of a paunchy male like Rodin’s Balzac studies. The possibility of many images and the risk of none at all—of total chaos—is for Tucker a consequence of the art of modelling, with shape and surface generated by the contact of the hand with the soft material.
In the years preceding the production of this work, the process of modelling had become as much the subject of Tucker’s sculpture as it is the means. Gradually, he has sought a more explicit image of the body that is as much sensed internally as witnessed from the outside.
This work was previously on loan as part of the exhibition William Tucker - Sculptures at Skulpturenpark, Waldfrieden, Germany.