Monday 29 March 2010

BBC Broadcasting House, Langham Place/Portland Place W1

I've never really liked Broadcasting House. It looms up behind All Souls, the fake transmitter tower mocking Nash's eccentric but lovely spire. And (have I mentioned this before?) it is one of the most egregious sinners in the rape of Portland Place.
But it does feature some great sculpture, notably by Eric Gill who did the mighty figure of Prospero holding a figure of Ariel above the front door. Why the magician and control freak Prospero and his invisible enforcer Ariel were considered particularly appropriate as symbols of the new BBC is something of a mystery.

Being Gill, stories of the creation of this work abound, notably that Gill carved it in situ, standing on the scaffold wearing a monk's habit and no underwear, so passing ladies got an eyeful of his mason's tools. Also that he gave Ariel a monster wang and had to carve a few inches off it on the personal instructions of Lord Reith.
Be that as it may, the sculpture clearly has religious overtones. Ariel is posed in a crucifix pose, and there are even suggestions of stigmata in the feet.
On the Portland Place front, two more bas-reliefs of Ariel depict "Ariel between wisdom and gaiety" and "Ariel hearing celestial music".
Not by Gill but probably designed by the architect, Lt Col Val Myers, is this remarkable depiction of The Golden Snitch of Harry Potter.

Wednesday 24 March 2010

138 New Bond Street W1

New Bond Street seems to have gone all nautical at one time. This splendid vessel looks like a 3rd or 4th rate ship of Nelson's time. She is portrayed as realistically as possible given the limitations of the medium, but there is no indication of which ship is portrayed. It looks a bit out of place on this late 20th century shop - was it transferred from the previous building?

Saturday 20 March 2010

133 New Bond Street W1

133 New Bond Street is so dull it does not even get into Pevsner, despite being clad in Portland stone and everything.It seems to date from between the wars, being a sort of stripped-down Tudor with Art Nouveau resonances.
But I like this Viking ship flanked by dolphins, storming in to pillage Europe's most expensive shopping street. However, it may not be entirely authentic - click through to my other blog, Rowing for Pleasure, where the issues are discussed but no conclusion reached.

Friday 19 March 2010

Hotel Russell, Russell Square WC1

Anne (or Mary)
H.C. Fehr modelled four British Queens for the main entrance of the Hotel Russell, and four prime ministers for round the side. As with most of Fehr's work, they are very idealised, in fact, idealised to the extent of being practically unidentifiable, except that we can assume that the Catholic Mary Tudor would not have been included as Catholics were still regarded as suspect to say the least.
The best clue to their identities is inside the hotel, where the best suites are the Elizabeth, Anne, Mary and Victoria.
Mary (or Anne)
Elizabeth is obvious from her ruff, and the 18th century fashions point out Anne and Mary, though which is which I'd rather not say.
Which leaves the girl with the orb as Victoria. This is truly eccentric - in 1898 the image of the Queen as the little old widow was so well established I bet most Victorians would have been amazed that this young thing was actually their Empress.
And Victoria was always, even when young, portrayed with her hair in a bun.
Lord Derby


Lord Salisbury
Identifying the prime ministers is, oddly, rather easier despite the lavish Victorian face fungus. They are (if I have got this right) Lord Derby, Lord Salisbury, a young and rather dynamic looking Gladstone, and the only instantly recognisable one, Disraeli.

Thursday 18 March 2010

Hotel Russell, Russell Square WC1

The monstrous Hotel Russell was built in 1898 by the Russell estate's architect Charles Fitzroy Doll, who went in for Doulton's terracotta in a big, big way. The facade is covered with ornament from basement to the mass of gables on the eighth floor. It is too overpoweringly Victorian for my taste, but it has some interesting figures by two of my favourite sculptors, H.C. Fehr and W.J. Neatby.
Neatby contributed the Renaissance warriors on the gables, their greaves embossed with grotesque heads that look rather livelier than the men. They are done in typically spiky Neatby style, although he has clearly been held back from expressing his usual Art Nouveau tendencies. He also made the coats of arms of all nations that stud the front, presumably intended to make the tourists welcome. I will post Fehr's Queens and PMs tomorrow.

Friday 12 March 2010

6 Upper Brook Street W1

Pevsner describes this 1936 block of flats as 'Odeonish' and indeed the keystone over the entrance is carved by the Odeon's favourite sculptor, Newbury Trent. A nice conceit - a little boy carves the house number.
The building was designed by W.E. Masters.

Thursday 11 March 2010

5 Portland Place W1

There are still some things worth looking at in Portland Place despite the vandalism of the Adam streetscape. Number 5, for example, is a 1911 building of not much merit by an architect called Percival W. Hawkins whose only other building, as far as I can tell, is a Baptist church in Shepherds Bush.
Number 5 is a block of serviced offices clearly designed to add as much floor space as possible, but right at the top there is a series of nice carved panels depicting the seasons. From the left, a man ploughs and sows. Next, a girl holds a swag of flowers, and in the centre an earth-mother figure plays a double flute while her little boy plays with his bow and arrow. That dove he's holding looks rather alarmed as well she might.
Further on, a man carries a scythe and a sheaf of corn. The sequence is completed by a heavily-hooded woman gathering firewood under leafless winter trees.

Wednesday 10 March 2010

82 Mortimer Street W1

This lovely couple stand over the main window of 82 Mortimer Street, originally built in 1896 as a house and consulting room for the pioneering anaesthetist Dr Dudley Buxton, later converted into a shop but currently (2013) being re-converted into flats.
The conversion included a nice restoration of the sculpture and the replacement of a hideous shop window that had been inserted into the ground floor with something reminiscent of the original.
The house was designed by Beresford Pite, who was very fond of sculpture. The figures were modelled by J. Attwood Slater and carved by Thomas Tyrell.
The figures are said to be parodies of Michelangelo's famous 'Dawn' and 'Dusk' on the tomb of Lorenzo de' Medici in Florence but I don't think so. Look at the way the man is gazing up and stretching his arms, and the way the girl is drawing a hood over her head. Remember it was built for an anaesthetist. I suggest they are Waking and Sleeping.

Saturday 6 March 2010

70-71 New Bond Street W1

It is easy to pass these ladies by as just another trio of artsy Edwardian allegorical figures, but they are exceptionally good. Two, Art and Commerce, are by Louis Frederick Roslyn (formerly Louis Fitz Roselieb, but as the date was 1916 one can understand his motives). The other, Science, is by Thomas Rudge.
Art hold a palette in one hand and a maquette of an armless classical figure in the other. Science stands in front of a globe standing rather precariously on a pile of books, holding a pair of dividers. In her other hand she holds a lamp (I think - it looks a bit like a dinosaur egg hatching a serpent).

But my favourite is Commerce with her armful of flowers. Her face is not the standard droopy post-pre-Raphaelite face of so much Edwardian sculpture but a real person, full of character.
The building was designed by Palgrave and Co.