Art for rugby’s sake   28 Sep 2004

By Duncan Mills

An exhibition of 30 rugby bronzes by New Zealand sculptor Bonar Dunlop is underway at the Museum of Rugby at Twickenham.

The collection, entitled ‘art for rugby’s sake’, is the first ever exhibition of rugby-related sculpture to be displayed at the museum and comes 12 years after the rugby player and artist’s death. It includes a statue of legendary Kiwi scrumhalf Sid Going, along with other famous faces from international rugby of the 1970s and early 80s, such as Welsh greats Gareth Edwards, Phil Bennett and Cliff Morgan. There are also a number of generic rugby sculptures in the collection. "We are very privileged to be able to display so many of these pieces together for the very first time," museum curator Jed Smith said. "He was a marvellous sculptor and took rugby off the pitch, giving it a whole new dimension," he added.

He said that the exhibition was proving a hit with rugby fans and that the layout of the exhibition, together with the objects on display, had been well received. In fact, while it was originally anticipated that the exhibition would run for two months, it might be extended to six months due to popularity. The title of the exhibition is taken from a quote made by the artist in 1975. He worked, he said: "in a manner which makes no concessions to trends or to self conscious idiom, you may say art for rugby’s sake!" Born in Dunedin in 1916, Bonar Dunlop had a huge passion for rugby union from childhood. He started playing the game at the age of eight and turned out for Rossyln Park in 1939, though he remained an artist by trade.

Coming to the UK, he lived in northwest London in the 1960s and 70s, during which time he frequently watched Saracens play and it was at one of their matches in 1975 that he was inspired to sculpt rugby forms. "He was watching the lineout and began to watch through a sculptor’s eye," Smith said, adding that Dunlop began his first rugby sculpture that evening. Dunlop worked at home, initially with clay before moving on to bronze and other mediums. A life-size statue of Wales’ Gareth Edwards is perhaps his best-known work and is permanently located in Cardiff’s main shopping centre. He created about 40 pieces in all, of which 30 are now on display at the museum. Smith said that the exhibition would be on display in the East Stand at Twickenham, where the Museum of Rugby has been permanently housed since 1996. Planned future exhibitions include one featuring the British Lions rugby team in February 2005, followed by a display next September to mark the centenary of the inaugural All Blacks tour to the UK in 1905.

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