Wednesday 28 October 2009

London Underground, 55 Broadway SW1

A treat on BBC4 tonight - at 8.30 in Art Deco Icons, David Heathcote looks at London's first skyscraper, Charles Holden's London Underground building, built in 1927.
It was controversial enough to have such a tall building so close to Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament, but Holden had to bring Jacob Epstein in to carve the lowest and most visible sculptures. Holden and his client Frank Pick knew what to expect - Holden had collaboarated with Epstein on the BMA building and had caused a mighty rumpus then.
And Epstein delivered. The figures, Day on the south face and Night on the north, are as powerful as anything he did, and attracted a storm of reactionary fury with all the usual newspaper leader columns advising men not to let their wives or daughters see these abominations.
The crime? The figure of Night shows a father being embraced by his son, who has a visible penis. In fact, his whole body is twisted round to make the penis visible. If he were simply giving Dad a hug he would be facing away from the public.
Just why this should be so offensive is not clear, considering the number of cocky cupids carved on any baroque church. It may have been its size - it is said that Epstein was forced to whittle the willy down to more acceptable proportions as the price of Frank Pick's survival in his job.
Removing the sculpture entirely would have been impractical - as with the BMA figures, they were carved in situ.
UPDATE David Heathcote said that Epstein had to remove an inch and a half off the poor boy's willy because rain ran down it and formed a perfect arc of water onto the pavement. I find this story entirely convincing.

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