Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Hyde Park Corner W1

The Apsley House screen was intended as a grand entrance to Hyde Park, aligned with the Constitution Arch through which royal processions would pass on their way to the park. Both were designed by Decimus Burton.
The arch was moved to its current position at the top of Constitution Hill in 1882 when the road was widened, which is a very grand position for the arch but leaves the screen looking a little lost.
The screen's central arch is decorated with an ancient Greek victory parade carved by sculptor John Henning and his son, also John.
On the north side, facing the park, a figure of Victory with a laurel branch and spear stands in the middle with goddesses of peace and plenty complete with cornucopia. On either side the massive prows of triremes emerge from the waves. Sailors carry paddles and marines carry shields. At the right hand end, a lyre trio provides the music.
The south side is a parade of cavalry with a chariot in the middle, carrying a helmeted female probably intended to represent Britannia - note the lion being led behind her and the winged figure of Victory holding the head of one of the chariot's horses.
The sides continue the cavalry theme.
The figures are very vigorous and their is a lot going on but it is a bit small for the position - you need binoculars to make it all out.
John Henning Snr made reproducing the Elgin marbles his life's work, as the first sculptor who had gained permission from Lord Elgin to measure and draw them. He created slate moulds to make plaster miniatures just two inches high but 24ft long. Unfortunately they were so popular other sculptors with lower quality standards ripped them off and he never made the money that he should. His case was taken up in early arguments for the establishment of copyright in artistic works.

1 comment:

The Duke of Waltham said...

The background on Henning is very interesting, because his connection with the Elgin Marbles appears to have shaped his later work, at least with regard to Burton's screen. Looking at the street-facing side, one cannot help but think of the Parthenon Frieze. The stylistic similarities are quite obvious, and the subject itself has a classical air about it. Processions on horseback were a feature of English public life at some point, but I don't believe they were ever like this (even if we discount the way the horsemen are dressed here).