Friday, 24 October 2014

Hyde Park, London WC2

The Joy of Life is by T.B. (Thomas Bayliss) Huxley-Jones and was created in 1963.
It was the last work commissioned by the Constance Fund, a sum of money set aside by the painter and patron of art Sigismund Goetze to form a memorial to his wife Constance. As it turned out, he died first and the fund was administered by Constance until her death in 1951.
The fund was set up for "the encouragement of Ideal Sculpture and its setting for Parks and Public Places in conjunction with the settings and surroundings"; had a rather odd committee structure, set up by Goetze, consisting of "three sculptors, an architect, a horticulturalist and a few laymen." When a site was found, a competition was held offering five prizes of £50 and £1,500 to the winner.
"The Joy of Life" is a great work, full of both joy and life. The four children playing in the spray are particularly charming.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Royal Geographical Society, Lowther Lodge, Kensington Gore SW7

The figures of two great explorers enliven the blank wall of the Royal Geographic Society's lecture hall, Ernest Shackleton and David Livingstone. Sir Ernest Shackleton's reputation today is based on a very British failure. The aim of his 1914 polar expedition was to cross Antarctica, but his ship Endeavour was crushed in the pack ice and it was his leadership in extracting his crew without losing a man that has made him a cult figure. He is portrayed in full cold-weather gear in the 1932 statue by Charles Sargeant Jagger, It is a very characteristic Jagger piece - very statuesque, full-frontal. The only movement is subtly suggested by one foot being slightly in front of the other, and he holds one hand behind his back. There is an interesting photo of his assistants working on the full-size work for the foundry from the maquette.
Dr David Livingstone's search for the source of the Nile and his meeting with Stanley earned him mythic status in his lifetime and throughout the imperial period, but today he is regarded more cautiously. He was as much a missionary as a scientist, and he opened the interior of Africa to colonial rule. But he is ultimately redeemed by the fact that he really loved both the place and its people. Livingstone's statue was created in 1953 by T.B. Huxley-Jones. It is a much livelier pose, as you might expect from the creator of all those fountains with writhing figures. The good doctor leans on his cane, cradling his Bible in his other hand, his coat over his arm.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Lower Grosvenor Gardens SW1

The French sculptor Georges Malissard was noted for his statues of horses, often shown with jockeys, polo players, soldiers and, in the case of Albert of the Belgians, royalty.This is a copy of his portrait of the charger Bengali, Marshal Foch up. Ferdinand Foch was one of the few generals of genius in the First World War, and became three times a marshal, of France (naturally), Britain (Field Marshal in 1919) and Poland (in 1923).
The statue was erected in 1930. The 1928 original (below) is in Cassel, Foch's headquarters at the battle of Ypres,

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Lower Grosvenor Gardens SW1

An Alien has landed next to Victoria station, and no-one is taking a blind bit of notice.
The sculpture, entitled Alien, was plonked in place (well, that's what it looks like. Of course I am sure it was done with care and full compliance with all relevant H&S regs) in 2013 for a two-year period. It deserves a permanent place.
For the sculptor, David Breuer-Weil, the word 'alien' has several meanings:
“I have always been fascinated by the idea that we are not alone, that a massive Alien might suddenly land on earth. I wanted to capture the sense of wonder and shock that such an arrival would generate. Every new work of art is an Alien, an unexpected arrival. But I also think that an extra-terrestrial being would look like us, but perhaps much larger or smaller. However, the title Alien also suggests something quite different: the difficulty of being an outsider. My father arrived in England from Vienna with his parents as refugees in 1938. My grandfather was interred as an enemy “Alien”, a great paradox given the reasons he had to leave Austria, something that my family often spoke about. Sometimes immigrants hide their true identity beneath the surface, like this sculpture. Many of my works, both paintings and sculptures, explore the theme of belonging or alienation. But with this work I wanted to use a vast, breathing human form to express the profound feelings associated with these themes. And I needed the massive scale to portray the intensity of these emotions.”
(from the Victoria Business Improvement District website. BID was behind the placement of the sculpture)

Saturday, 6 September 2014

St Paul's Churchyard EC4

Becket depicts the Archbishop in the agony of death, his right hand extended as if to ward off the blows of his knightly assassins. The plinth is stepped to recall the steps into the choir of Canterbury Cathedral.
This memorable image was created in 1970 as part of the commemorations of the saint's martyrdom by Bainbridge Copnall, who was living near Canterbury at the time. It is rather unclear why it was not bought for Canterbury but ended up next to St Pauls in 1973.
The material looks like bronze but is in fact resin coloured to look like bronze, a process pioneered by Copnall himself.
Unfortunately, the weakness of the material was exposed in the hurricane of 1987 when a cherry tree fell on it and did considerable damage. Luckily, a former student of Copnall's, Patrick Crouch, was able to restore it.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Guy's Hospital, St Thomas Street SE1

John Keats trained as a surgeon-apothecary at Guy's Hospital but was so disgusted by the bloody work of a sawbones in the era before anaesthetics that he turned to poetry instead.
This charming memorial was created by Stuart Williamson in 2007 in memory of DR Robert Knight, a doctor at Guy's and prominent Keats fan.
Keats sits holding a notebook, looking out as if in the act of creation. He sits in a niche that was installed on Old London Bridge in 1758 when the old houses were swept away, only to be removed themselves when the whole bridge was rebuilt.
Williamson specialises in portrait sculpture, including Tussaud-style wax figures for museums.
During the war, the British Council used to send academics to the troops to deliver improving lectures. A sergeant-major in Egypt, the story goes, announced to his men: "This afternoon, a professor is going to give you a lecture about Keats, though I don't suppose any of you iggerant bastards knows what a Keat is."

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Bath House Lofts, 19 Spa Road SE16

This extraordinary Greek Revival building looks as though it was built in the 1820s (think British Museum) but was in fact built in the 1920s. The architect, Henry Tansley, was also responsible for the Moderne/Art Deco Health Centre close by - clearly a man who could turn his hand to any style.
It was built as an annexe to the even grander Victorian Town Hall next door, sadly destroyed in the blitz. 
Inside, there is an amazingly opulent oval entrance hall and palatial staircase, featuring veined marbles of the highest quality. Tansley was able to achieve this on a council budget by buying the stonework from a nobleman's town house in Park Lane that had been demolished. 
There must have been a feeling that at last the working man was benefiting from the finer things in life that the upper classes were no longer able to afford. 
Now, however, the borough has been swamped by the London Borough of Southwark and the local politicians and their bureaucrats have moved out. And, with a superb irony, the building has been converted into loft apartments with price tags starting at just under a million. It's the rich, as the song says, what gets the pleasure.