Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Oxford and Cambridge University Club, 71 Pall Mall SW1

Apollo and Minerva  Presiding
The Oxford and Cambridge University Club was built in 1835 by brothers Sir Robert and Sidney Smirke, with terracotta-colour panels designed by their father, the painter Robert Smirke. They were executed by the architectural sculptor William Nicholl.
On completion in 1838, the club was described by The Gentleman's Magazine as a "magnificent accession to the architectural ornaments of the metropolis." In its description, derived from The Civil Engineer and Architect's Journal, it states:
The bas reliefs in the panels above the windows of the principal floor require particular notice.They are executed in Roman cement by Mr W.G. Nicholl from designs by R. Smirke Esq. R.A. and are intended to illustrate those exalted labours of the mind, which it is peculiar province of the Universities to foster and promote. In the centre panel, Minerva and Apollo preside on Parnassus; a female figure personifying the river Helicon pours from an urn source sacred to the God of verse, and the Muses surround them at the foot the Mount. In one of the panels Homer is represented singing to a warrior, a female and a youth; in other is Virgil, reciting his Georgics to group of peasants. The four other panels represent Milton reciting his verses to his daughter, inspired by a superior agency hovering over him; Shakespeare attended by Tragedy and Comedy; Newton explaining his system; and Bacon recommending his philosophy.
The choice of the modern mind-labourers seems a little invidious for a club intended for the alumni of both universities - Bacon, Milton and Newton were all Cambridge men, and Shakespeare, sad to say, was not fostered or promoted by any university at all. The fact that the founding committee was chaired by Lord Palmerston (St Johns College, Cambridge, 1803-06) can have been mere coincidence.
Homer Sings
Virgil Recites
Milton Inspired

Shakespeare Attended
Newton Explains
Bacon Recommends

Saturday, 26 October 2013

39-40 Lombard Street EC3

Buy-to-let is nothing new - this building was funded by the City Offices Company, an investment vehicle, in 1866. 
To attract a better class of tenant, the block is clad from top to toe in Italianate stone carving to remind people that Lombard Street was named after the grand Italian bankers who kick-started London as a financial centre back in the late middle ages.
The architects were the Francis brothers, the carvers were from the firm of F.G. Anstey. It must have been all hands to the pump for a couple of years for a contract that size.
Above the corner door, a pair of allegorical women representing prosperity and commerce support a shield with the cross and sword of the City. One holds a bale of wool and a sheaf of corn, the other a roll of material and a shield.
The keystone of the arch over the door is a rather grand looking king.

Friday, 25 October 2013

20 Grafton Street W1

The large map-like stone plaque next to the door of the Camper & Nicholson yacht shop in Mayfair was made in 2006 by the Iceland-born but London-based artist Gudrun Sigridur Haraldsdottir, who "creates scalable, multi sensual, site-specific, public and private art pieces, installations and designs," according to her website.
The pattern is taken from the plan of the site and its history, as explained in a brass plate inset in it:
"Inspired by the street plan and the new façade's form and rhythm, the piece appears as an archaeological investigation, an erosion of the façade, carefully carving away layer after layer of history, revealing the fossil imprints and lingering shadows of a medieval orchard, the site's earliest identity.
The present sun casts a shadow of the canopy, aligning different levels and plan forms of the site's evolution through history, searching for the relationship between past and present time."
Unfortunately, the photograph fails to capture the effect of the sun's rays through the glass canopy because they were taken at dusk, but there are lots of images here.
I do like the letters of the address running down the left hand side, so distorted and buried in the surface you can barely make them out.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

National Hospital for Neurology, Queen Square WC1

Above the doors at each end of the 1937 extension of the National Hospital for Neurology are low relief panels by A.J.J. Ayres, tutor of Sir Anthony Caro.
On the right, a pair of hands emerge from the sun to proffer a rod of Asclepius, a snake wrapped round a staff, to a reclining woman. 
The symbolism is very rich. The sun indicates Apollo, who was also god of healing. Asclepius's snake is usually shown in a stiff formal pose but here it is writhing and the woman is patting its head - all a bit odd.
On the left-hand doorway, a bunsen burner heats a retort, with a lot of test tubes and scales, just like the stinks lab at school. An open book has a quotation from the 19th century American reformer, abolitionist and educationalist Horace Mann. A hand turns the page, and it is easy to miss that the hand emerges from a cloud and is therefore, presumably, God's.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

71-73 Cornhill EC3

A line of turbanned Persians look down on Cornhill from the top floor of the old Union Bank of Australia, built in 1896 by the architect Gaymour Cuthbert.
The figures stand in place of columns and are known as atlantes, after the Greek god Atlas who was condemned by Zeus to support the sky on his shoulders for all eternity.
The sculptor was Henry Pegram, one of the supporters of the New Sculpture that promoted a naturalistic portrayal of the human form in contrast to the neo-classical conventions of the Georgians and early Victorians. The name had been coined by the critic Edmund Gosse in an essay in the Art Journal just two years before the Persians were commissioned. See how the figures are exerting all their power to hold up the architrave above, with muscles tensed and breath held.
There are three models, one a youth, one in his prime and one full of years. Each is repeated but not symmetrically for some reason.
Shortly after completing the work, Pegram was brought in to provide another pair of Persians for the doorway of Drapers' Hall in nearby Throgmorton Street.