Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Albion Yard, Whitechapel Road E1

The Albion Brewery started as a simple brewhouse for the Blind Beggar pub next door. The ornate frontage was added in about 1902 by architects William Bradford and Sons, who included this dynamic and flowing panel depicting St George and the dragon.
The saint is shown riding bareback in the nude, an unusual state for a Roman soldier. The motto, Decus et Tutamen, started life as an inscription round coins to prevent clipping, the practice of removing just a bit of the precious metal in the hope that the person you passed it to wouldn't notice. It means 'an ornament and a safeguard' and it appears on many new pound coins even though they have no precious metal to make clipping worth the effort.
Sadly, even Pevsner was unable to discover who carved this little gem.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

The New People's Palace, Mile End Road E1

The original People's Palace, an exotic confection intended to bring culture and improvement to the working classes, burned down in 1931 and there was a clamour for it to be replaced.
The New People's Palace, designed by Campbell Jones & Smithers, was finally completed in 1937 and was going to be opened by King Edward VIII but he abdicated before he could get round to it and the ceremony was performed by his brother George V and Queen Elizabeth - their first public engagement.
The typically Art Deco building is decorated with carvings by Eric Gill. Over the side doors are a couple of rather androgynous figures representing Recreation, one playing some sort of woodwind instrument and the other reading Unto This Last, a proto-socialist tract on economics by Ruskin that I certainly wouldn't read for recreation.
The larger figures represent Drama, Music, Fellowship, Dance and Sport.
Gill usually preferred to work on the stone in its position on the building, but in this case most of the work was carried out at Gill's workshop in Ditchling (near Brighton). They were then installed and he finished them off in situ.
The New People's Palace was not to last, however. Despite the pressure for the old one to be rebuilt, it seems the arrival of real socialism in 1948 was bad for philanthropic social enterprises - the Ally Pally is another example. After years of losses, the New People's Palace was sold to Queen Mary College and converted into a hall.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Queen Mary University of London, Mile End Road E1

The prominent clock tower of 1890 in front of Queen Mary University of London was built in erected in 1890 in memory of Baron de Stern, a phenomenally rich financier who had been ennobled by the Portuguese government for services in lending them huge amounts of money.
It was part of a complex of halls, library and other public facilities called the People's Palace, designed by Edward Robson, the man who created the Queen Anne style of London's Board Schools.
The tower has a little treat for sculpture fans on the north face, hidden from the street behind a hedge.
The panel over the door is carved with a charming scene of a seabird flying over a shoreline, the sun on the horizon lighting the clouds from below. A sailing boat scuds over the water.
The words 'Time Trieth Troth' appear in the sky. This old proverb (listed by Heywood in 1546) means that faith or loyalty is tested by the passage of time, and was used often to describe the plight of the Jacobites in their weary and fruitless wait for the return of the Stuarts.
Why it appears on the clock tower is something of a mystery. 'Time Trieth Troth' was a popular heraldic motto but the Stern family seems to have favoured 'Vincit perseverantia' ('Perseverance Conquers', a drearily uplifting sentiment).

Friday, 31 July 2015

City Basin Lock, Regent's Canal N1

One of the great pleasures of cycling round London is coming across works of art like this, unobtrusively mounted on a wall on a canal towpath, quietly brightening my day.
Entitled A World in Islington, the four mosaics illustrate the changing canal landscape over the 200 years or so since it was built. They were created in 2010 by pupils at the Hanover Primary School just behind the wall. Artists Carina Wyatt and Cathy Ludlow 'helped', as they say.
My favourite panel shows narrowboats being hauled by horses to the basin where they are being unloaded.
"The Layered City" is particularly dramatic, showing how transport systems weave in, out and under each other in today's metropolis.  Love that scooter!
Today, the canal has lost its commercial function. I remember the canal rotting to death in the 1970s, so it is uplifting to see how it has become a focus for relaxation and fun. Love the dogs!
This panel is titled Tools and Trades, showing local industries including tailoring, hairdressing, musical instrument making, building and cooking. Difficult to photograph as it is half in the shade of a big tree. Love those 'taches!
Benches by the artists stand in front of the panels. They are much more 'finished' compositions and somehow lose the joie de vivre of the work the children were involved in. Still nice, though.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Moorfields Eye Hospital, City Road EC1

This small sculpture stands over the entrance to the 1933 extension to the famous Moorfields Eye Hospital.
It represents the story of the blind man Bartimaeus, who was begging by the side of the road from Jericho as Jesus passed by.
On hearing who was near, Bartimaeus began to make a fuss, calling for Jesus to have mercy. One of the perceptive little details that so often crop up in the Gospels is that the bystanders tried to get him to stop being such a nuisance, "but he cried the more a great deal, Thou son of David, have mercy on me."
In the sculpture, Jesus stands over Bartimaeus with his fingers touching his eyes. In the Gospel story, he asks "What wilt thou that I should do unto thee?", to which the blind man said "Domine, ut videam (Lord, that I might receive my sight)."
Christ then memorably says "Go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole."
The sculptor, the deeply religious Eric Gill, gets the scene slightly wrong, I feel. It looks as though Jesus is applying a healing touch to the blind man, when actually he cured himself.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Green Park SW1

I suspect that most of the tourists heading towards Buckingham Palace from Green Park station assume that the Diana fountain is a memorial to the notorious princess of the same name, but in fact she was created in 1954 by Estcourt "Jim" Clack.
Known as Diana of the Treetops, the goddess of the hunt and the forest is depicted spurring her greyhound off to a mark, the dog's leash swinging round in her hand. It is a figure full of energy, spinning as the dog springs away.
The statue was originally placed in the middle of the park where no-one ever passed, so in 2011 she was moved to her current location as part of the rebuilding of the tube station. At the same time she was restored and the flowers she stands on gilded to exotic effect.
The granite fountains beneath include a ground level drinking fountain for dogs, a considerate touch.
Jim Clack's only other work in London is the Dickens memorial plaque in Marylebone Road.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Riverside Walk Gardens, Millbank SW1

Locking Pieces is unmistakably by Henry Moore. Created in 1963, this version was presented by the sculptor to the Tate in 1978, who lent it to Westminster City Council to enliven a rather dreary triangle of riverside embankment created by the way the street has to veer inland to allow room for the roundabout at the end of Vauxhall Bridge.
Here's what Moore himself said to Alan Wilkinson in 1980:
"At one time I was playing with a couple of pebbles that I’d picked up, because behind my far field is a gravel pit and there are thousands of shapes and forms and one only has to go out there and I can find twenty new little ideas if I wish, immediately. Anyhow, I was playing with two pebbles which I found like that and somehow or other they got locked together and I couldn’t get them undone and I wondered how they got into position and it was like a clenched fist being tightly … Anyhow, eventually I did get it to [separate]; by turning and lifting, one piece came off the other. This gave one the idea of making two forms which would do that and later I called it ‘Locking Piece’ because they lock together."
I like the simple, unpretentious language, that of a child almost. So much more direct than the art-speak used by many graduates of university art departments.