Saturday 2 October 2010

Bush House, Aldwych WC2

Bush House looks quintessentially Imperial, a grandiloquent Edwardian Beaux Arts design. This impression is reinforced by its position between Australia House and India House. But it was an entirely American concept and design and wasn't constructed until 1923, when International Modernism stalked the land.
Designed by Helmle and Corbett of New York (Corbett had studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris), it was built by Irving T. Bush as a centre for merchants trading with America.
Once you know, its 100% USofA origins are obvious. Buildings like it are all over Washington DC - think Lincoln Memorial.
The figures standing on the entrance screen with the inscription 'Dedicated to the Friendship of English-speaking Peoples' were sculpted by Malvina Hoffman, a New Yorker who had moved to Paris to study with Rodin. Unfortunately Rodin was unaware of this, and she had to spend some time badgering him into it. On completion of her studies, he advised her to return to Manhattan and spend a year dissecting bodies at the School of Physicians and Surgeons, which gave her an unrivalled knowledge compared with most artists of what goes on under the skin. She also got involved with bronze founding and other skills that artists often leave to the craftsmen. Apparently, the sight of this little woman scuttling about with whacking great hammers and chisels six storeys above Aldwych attracted quite a lot of comment.
Her figures of Britain and American holding the Torch of Friendship over a Celtic-style altar thing are dramatic and evocative.
In one of the ironies that make wars so entertaining in retrospect, the Clasp of Friendship was blown apart by the blast from a German V1 in 1944, leaving the American waving a stump at the Brit for over 30 years. It was finally reinstated for the Silver Jubilee celebrations of Elizabeth II in 1977 by an American who worked for the Indiana Limestone Company and persuaded his employers to send a arm and a stonemason to attach it.


Anonymous said...

This is a fascinating article and I really appreciate it, as I spent ten years as a student and academic at the nearby London School of Economics! I never been able to see a close up of the statues on top until now and and they make much more sense that way, enlivened by your interesting details. I liked the story about the torch being blown away by a V1 rocket during WWII. I have seen at the LSE in an exhibition with photographs from its past an image that shows the Aldwich area damaged by bombing, perhaps by that V1 which you mention.
Valentin Mandache

Chris Partridge said...

Thanks historo. Actually, perhaps I was a bit flippant about the V1. After I wrote that, I discovered that 48 people died in the attack. There may be irony in it, but war is still hell.

John J. McCreary said...

My grandfather, John E. O'Brien was the gentleman sent to England to set the arm. I have pictures of the work on my facebook page:

If you have any other photographs of this endeavor, I would love to see them.

John J. McCreary