Wednesday 17 December 2008

Silken Hotel, Aldwych (again)

One more group from the facade of the old Gaiety Restaurant. These girls represent Sculpture, Architecture and Painting.
Few of the other groups can be photographed well because of the plane trees in front.

Interesting to compare with the trees in 1903.

Saturday 13 December 2008

Silken Hotel, Aldwych (Cont)

The Aldwych facade of the old Gaiety Restaurant has a Drama Group, appropriately enough considering the sadly demolished Gaiety Theatre was next door.
To the right is the hooded figure of Tragedy, holding a knife in one hand and a severed head with the other. A snake has curled its way through the eye socket of a scull, over Tragedy's shoulders and is turning as if to strike. All very odd.
Comedy on the left is much more straightforward, a lovely flirtatious girl with a fan to show how jolly she is. Representing comedy in symbols is very difficult. Showing her slipping on a banana skin or boarding the boat for the West Indies (Jamaica?) would probably have lowered the tone.
Binney had a bit of a problem with symbology with the group in the centre as well. Here he shows three of Shakespeare's most famous heroines, Ophelia, Cleopatra and Juliet, all helpfully labelled.
Cleopatra and Juliet have the instruments of their deaths - Cleo has both asp and bosom on display, and Juliet carries the chalice with the sleeping potion (though she eventually stabs herself). Ophelia, on the other hand, is drowned in a stream, which is rather difficult to include so Binney settles for showing her wringing her hands in a bonkers sort of way.
The heroines are being saluted by girls playing what look like alpenhorns.

Thursday 11 December 2008

Silken Hotel, Aldwych

The Silken Hotel is taking shape behind the facade of the old Gaiety Restaurant on the west corner of Aldwych, designed by Norman Shaw and built in 1903. For some reason Shaw included a frieze of monumental figures round the top, where they are practically invisible without binoculars.
They were carved by Hibbert C. Binney, whose only other work in London (I think) is the figure of Justice on top of 161 Piccadilly.
Here, Binney seems to have been unable to decide on an appropriate theme for the large number of figures needed to surround the building, though he might as well have modelled the queue at the post office as nobody can see them properly.
So he plumped for a random selection of the usual allegorical figures: Theatre, The Arts, Industry and Commerce - that sort of thing.
To start, here is a rather odd group on the south facade overlooking the Strand. It shows War protecting Justice, Motherhood and Peace.
War is on the left, armed with helmet, sword and shield, and shouting something. She looks very sergeant-majorly: "Right, you 'orrible allegorical figgers - get your 'air cut."
Justice stands at the centre left, with the slogan 'To Uphold the Right'.
On centre right, Motherhood cradles a child, looked over by a couple of cherubs. And on the far right, Peace holds a palm.
Imagine the fuss if Binney entered it for the Turner prize today. It would cause spluttering outrage in the right-on art elite.
The main part of the Silken Hotel on the corner of Aldwych is designed by Foster and Partners. It has the merit of being marginally less spirit-sappingly dull than the English Electric (later Citibank) building it replaces.