Monday 27 December 2010

Cumberland Hotel, Oxford Street W1

The massive Cumberland Hotel behind Marble Arch was built for J. Lyons in 1930 at the height of the Art Deco mania for everything Egyptian sparked off by the discovery of King Tut's tomb. Lyons's in-house architect, F.J. Wills, decorated the facade with giant Egyptian figures and created a very odd new order of columns with bulls' heads on the capitals.
A rather nice little detail is that the Egyptians have different expressions on their faces, one having a rather twinkly smile. You need binos or, in my case, a long lens to see that from street level, of course.

Saturday 18 December 2010

34-36 High Holborn WC1

 The Artist as Hephaestus (1987) could be by no-one but Eduardo Paolozzi, a perfect example of his brutalist style, looking as though the work had been sawn into sections and then carelessly reassembled with all the bits slightly out of alignment.
Hephaestus was the Greek equivalent of Vulcan. He was a sort of divine Q, supplying all the Gods with their gadgets. He made Hermes's winged helmet and sandals, Aegis's breastplate, Eros's bow and arrows and Helios's chariot.
Paolozzi portrays himself holding a number of strange-looking objects. Are they mystical machines such as Hephaestus might have knocked up for his divine clients? They look a bit like impedimenta from a foundry, perhaps items associated with the lost wax process Paolozzi used so extensively.
Paolozzi suggests the Hephaestus's lameness by making one leg slightly shorter than the other and  moulding his left foot as though it is fused to the block under it.

Friday 10 December 2010

27 Southampton Street WC2

27 Southampton Street dates from 1707  but its main interest is, unusually, the plaque over the front door put up in 1900 to commemorate the residency of the actor, impressario and Shakespeare idoliser David Garrick.for nearly 30 years.
The plaque is unusual on several counts. Firstly, its quality and cost (it is cast bronze). Secondly, unlike most plaques it is the work of a top-flight sculptor, Henry Fehr. And thirdly, it was paid for by the freeholder, the Duke of Bedford, who was not known for his generosity. He even got his personal architect, Charles Fitzroy Doll, to sketch out the design.
A bust of Garrick circled with a laurel wreath stands on a plinth with the inscription. On either side stand two Muses, helpfully labeled. Less helpfully for today's Londoners, the labels are in Greek, but one of the advantages of a scientific education is a working knowledge of the Greek alphabet so I was able after only a bit of head-scratching to identify them as Melpomene (left) and Thalia (right).
Melpomene, the Muse of Tragedy, holds her dagger in her right hand. She traditionally also carries a club but Fehr clearly thought that would be rather unladylike so she holds a slim, elegant mace with a crown hanging round it instead.
Thalia holds the mask of comedy and a shepherdess's crook. Both are sad and pensive

Thursday 2 December 2010

Former Catesby's Store, 64-67 Tottenham Court Road W1

The top end of Tottenham Court Road was the place where the super-rich of Edwardian London furnished their houses, trooping round Heals, Maples and Catesby's, the latter being where they bought carpets for upstairs and linoleum for downstairs. The area was so expensive that the plutocratic Baron de Rothschild could quite seriously justify his passion for buying antique French furniture by saying "it's cheaper than going to Maples."
In 1904 Edward Catesby rebuilt his store in a flamboyant Free Renaissance with Arts and Crafts touches. The architect was Henry A. Whitburn, whose initials appear like very polite grafitti behind the dragon in the tippy-top gable at the centre of his facade.
Catesby's initial appears much more ornately carved and prominently positioned, but as he was paying for it I suppose that was fair dos.
My absolute favourite sculptures are the storks under the bow windows on the fourth floor. They have the ungainliness of Martin pottery birds, with those faintly ridiculous beaks and spindly legs.