Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Hyde Park Corner W1

The Apsley House screen was intended as a grand entrance to Hyde Park, aligned with the Constitution Arch through which royal processions would pass on their way to the park. Both were designed by Decimus Burton.
The arch was moved to its current position at the top of Constitution Hill in 1882 when the road was widened, which is a very grand position for the arch but leaves the screen looking a little lost.
The screen's central arch is decorated with an ancient Greek victory parade carved by sculptor John Henning and his son, also John.
On the north side, facing the park, a figure of Victory with a laurel branch and spear stands in the middle with goddesses of peace and plenty complete with cornucopia. On either side the massive prows of triremes emerge from the waves. Sailors carry paddles and marines carry shields. At the right hand end, a lyre trio provides the music.
The south side is a parade of cavalry with a chariot in the middle, carrying a helmeted female probably intended to represent Britannia - note the lion being led behind her and the winged figure of Victory holding the head of one of the chariot's horses.
The sides continue the cavalry theme.
The figures are very vigorous and their is a lot going on but it is a bit small for the position - you need binoculars to make it all out.
John Henning Snr made reproducing the Elgin marbles his life's work, as the first sculptor who had gained permission from Lord Elgin to measure and draw them. He created slate moulds to make plaster miniatures just two inches high but 24ft long. Unfortunately they were so popular other sculptors with lower quality standards ripped them off and he never made the money that he should. His case was taken up in early arguments for the establishment of copyright in artistic works.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Marble Arch W1

Still Water is a 30ft high horse's head in bronze by horse sculptor Nic Fiddian-Green. It was installed in 2011 to replace a similar but slightly smaller work, Horse at Water, which had been on loan from Sir Antony and Lady Bamford.
It has an amazing presence. Even from behind (whatever 'behind' means in this context),

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Boy and Frog, Queen Mary's Gardens NW1

The Boy and Frog is a delightful bronze by Sir William Reid Dick in 1936. It was donated to the park by rich artist Sigismund Goetze, who lived close by.
The statue was placed in the gardens when they were laid out in the 1930s after the departure of the Royal Botanical Society.

Triton Fountain, Queen Mary's Gardens NW1

The Triton Fountain was made by William McMillan in 1950 to commemorate the artist and philanthropist Sigismund Goetze, who lived and worked in Grove House (now Nuffield House) close by. His wife was the founder of the Constance Fund which donated fountains in Green Park and Hyde Park.
Triton - half man, half fish - was the son of Poseidon and Amphitrite. He was the sea-god's herald, blowing his conch shell so mightily it could calm or raise the sea and put giants to flight.
Triton is accompanied by a couple of mermaids, who have divided tails in the way that brought so much prudish disapproval on Starbucks they had to change their original logo.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Pie Corner, Cock Lane EC1

The Golden Boy of Pie Corner marks the point where the Great Fire of London of 1666 finally burnt out. 
The fire started in Pudding Lane and though Pie Corner probably got its name from a pub called the Magpie, local wags joked that it was a punishment for the deadly sin of gluttony. Today, some seem to think that our forefathers meant this to be taken seriously, which is a terrible slur on the sense of humour of the folk that included Congreve, Etherege and Aphra Behn. They took the Catholic conspiracy theory very seriously, however.
The Golden Boy was carved in the early 18th century by a signmaker called Puckridge in Hosier Lane and placed over the door of the Fortunes of War tavern in Giltspur Street. He was painted, not gilt, and the inscription now seen on a stone plaque was inked on his chest.
The pub was demolished in 1910 but the Fat Boy delightfully still marks the spot where the fire died out.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Cavalry Memorial, Serpentine Road, Hyde Park W2

The Cavalry Memorial was erected in 1924 to honour the mounted soldier, a species of fighting man that had not only lost many thousands in the Great War but also seen its functions disappear. So it is appropriate that the monument should be an exercise in nostalgia for a lost age of chivalry and romance.
The figure of St George is by Adrian Jones, the army vet turned sculptor. He based the horse on a drawing by Durer and the figure on a 1454 effigy of the Earl of Warwick.
The dragon lies dead beneath the horse, a lance sticking out of his belly. The idea was to symbolise the end of tyranny, a point rammed home by giving the dragon the Kaiser's trademark upturned moustache.
The podium is decorated with a parade of cavalrymen from all the countries of the Empire that supplied units - you can see the Australians' wideawake hats, Indian and Sikh turbans, Mountie-style hats from Canada as well as solar topees and the steel helmets that most of them ended up wearing.
Despite Adrian Jones's military experience, the monument inevitably came in for furious criticism from former cavalrymen who wrote enraged letters to the Editor of the Times like this one:
"The memorial may be alright on artistic grounds but it will strike every properly trained cavalry officer with dismay. It is supposed to represent a column on the march in the formation known as half-sections, and in this formation it is essential that each pair ride a half horse's length behind the pair in front; a squadron proceeding in the manner depicted on the panel would suffer more casualties on the march than at the hands of the enemy. The column is presumably supposed to be moving forwards, but all the horses are reining back - except the one in the centre, which is being reined back but is moving forward. Must truth always be sacrificed to art? Young recruits will be shown the memorial as an example of how not to do it."
The memorial originally stood at the edge of the park opposite Dorchester House, in front of a rather grand stone screen by Sir John Burnet. Now Dorchester House has gone, Park Lane is a thundering dual carriageway and the Cavalry Memorial has been moved further inside the park, sadly shorn of its architectural setting.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Mermaid Fountain, Hyde Park W1

The Mermaid Fountain is a copy in artificial stone of a work of some charm by William Robert Colton erected in about 1897.
According to Spielmann's British Sculpture and Sculptors of Today (1901), it was Colton's breakthrough work:
After he had studied in Paris, Mr. Colton first drew notice to himself with the fountain erected in Hyde Park, executed to the order of H. M.'s First Commissioner of Works during a lucid artistic interval of the Government. The influence of Mr. Alfred Gilbert seems to be in this charming production; but it is open to the criticism that the figure is abruptly cut off at the middle.
Indeed, it looks as though the girl is standing up wearing an enormous tutu.
Sadly, the artificial stone copy (made in the 1970s) has not worn well and, as an added indignity, the poor mermaid seems to have been renamed Little Nell for no readily apparent reason. 
Where is the original?