Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Old War Office, Whitehall SW1

Alfred Drury's final group for the old War House consists of the Sorrow of Peace and the Winged Messenger of Peace.
I have to say the symbolism eludes me. Is Drury saying that peace with poverty and injustice is as bad as war? What message is the little winged chap bringing, exactly?
The magazine The Studio was admiring but vague in a 1906 article:
"He has avoided the theatrical taint with memorable discretion, and yet he has found in the subjects suggested by the purpose to which the building he has adorned will be applied ample inspiration for sculpture which embodies the vital points in the drama of Peace and War. Each of the figures and each of the groups signifies something that is nobly imagined and finely thought out; each is an independent and original conception; and yet each one takes its proper place in the story which the whole series sets forth, and takes it as rightly as the work itself agrees with the architectural design."
Lots more from this article at VictorianWeb.

3 comments:

Philip Wilkinson said...

A terrific series of posts on a group of works I'd not noticed at all. Thank you.

The Duke of Waltham said...

A very balanced series of sculptures overall; Drury was careful neither to condemn war in principle nor to sing its praises. Instead, he has presented it as a fact of life, focusing on its heroic as much as its tragic nature, on the gravity of decisions pertaining to war, and on the responsibility of those taking such decisions. This is all very appropriate for a military headquarters, even if politicians are fairly unlikely to be inspired by their surroundings in their decision-making process.

Regarding this specific pair... The obvious explanation is that the winged messenger brings home news of the end of hostilities, but other than that I am just as confused. (It's not only my relative lack of expertise in allegory, but my inability to see exactly what the Sorrow of Peace is holding. One of the two children seems to be offering something to the other, possibly flowers.) Given that there is already a Victory, I am wondering whether one (or both) of these statues might be a representation of defeat; to be honest, however, it strikes me as a step too far. Perhaps Sorrow is a representation of the country as a widow, grieving the lost men of the war and bringing up the next generation with their memory, although this interpretation would create some overlap with Fame.

ChrisP said...

I think you may well be right - these figures could represent the end of hostilities, bringing relief but sadness at the carnage. I would imagine that the winged messenger is bringing news of the armistice.