Saturday, 24 April 2010

Selfridge's, Oxford Street W1

The clock over the main entrance of Selfridge's was one of the last parts to be completed, for the eastern end was built first in 1909, the western end in 1920, the middle in 1926 and the clock installed in 1931.
Known as the Queen of Time, it is by Gilbert Bayes, who mined a lifetime's development of polychromatic techniques to create this gold and blue bronze, a stunning and rich effect. It is a superb composition, noble, confident and lovely.
The Queen looks superficially like Athena, holding little figure of Nike (Victory) in her right hand and a sprig of laurel (also a symbol of victory) in her left. But unlike Athena she wears no armour, and Nike stands on an orb, a regal attribute. She is also winged (time flies, geddit?) and stands on the prow of a ship. Her supporters are mermaids holding phases of the moon controlling the tides, and of course the Queen of Time and Tides waits for no man.
The model was Leopoldine Avico, one of the three Avico sisters who were something of an institution at the Slade between the wars.
The clock behind supports an Elizabethan ship, recalling the early days of the exploration that would lead to the industrial revolution, trade and commerce, globalisation and the rise of shopping as the principal hobby of most of the western world except, of course, for eating, drinking and sex.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

144 New Bond Street W1

 When the extremely upper class art dealers Colnaghi built a new gallery in 1911 they initially employed a member of a dynasty of dull architects called Ridge, but sacked him in the early stages of construction and brought in Lanchester & Rickards. They designed a new facade in a chic continental style, and got their regular sculptor Henry Poole to put a lovely porcelain doll above the front door.
She is the Goddess of Painting - the palette she is holding is a symbol of authority rather than a tool of her trade, as she has no brushes, paints or canvas.
Behind her is a flourish of anemones, symbol of love and loss; a jar (which Poole has signed); a fan with a small pot and a watch to remind us that life is short but art lives on.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Garrick Street WC2

The Garrick Club is usually described as 'imposing', largely because one can't be rude about a building that has so many top lawyers as members. It was cheaply built in 1864 by the surveyor of the Metropolitan Board of Works, a greedy and possibly corrupt architect called Frederick Marrable, with a rendered facade that until recently was notable as the only building in London with its original Victorian layer of black soot.
Marrable also designed the symmetrical buildings on either side of the club, which feature arches with groups of putti.
Unfortunately, Marrable forgot that the cherubs would be only visible from the street and placed them behind the drip mouldings of the windows, so you can only see the poor loves from the knees up. He also economised by using three designs for 12 arches. Time has not been kind to them either - they are encrusted with at least twenty coats of thick exterior gloss that has filled most of the detail.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

John Lewis and London College of Fashion, Oxford Street W1

There aren't many places in London where you can see two decent 1960s artworks without moving, but stand opposite Holles Street and you get Barbara Hepworth's Winged Figure of 1963 on the side wall of John Lewis and a pretty mosaic panel on the front of the London College of Fashion, dating from the same year. Two for the price of one.
The Winged Figure is an aluminium shape with cross-wires that looks as much like some sort of bizarre harp or lyre as a winged figure, but it is a strong and original work.

The mosaic is nice but conservative, rather 1930s than 1960s, with a pair of scissors cutting ribbons and a sewing machine putting in a zip. All done in tasteful blues.