Monday 23 May 2011

6-7 St George Street W1

Sotheby's St George Street gallery was originally built for some other purpose in 1904 by C.H. Worley. It has a pair of interesting and attractive bronze figures over the front entrance signed by Fritz Roselieb, the sculptor who changed his name to Louis Roslyn when he joined the Royal Flying Corps in WW1.
It was common for warriors with German names to change them, partly as a statement of patriotism but also for fear that if captured they would be taken for traitors and shot.
This was particularly true of airmen who stood a good chance of crashing behind enemy lines.
Roslieb's figures seem to represent Ferdinand and Isabella considering the conquest of the world, though I could well be wrong, especially as Ferdinand is usually portrayed clean-shaven.
Isabella examines what looks like an atlas while Ferdinand stares moodily at a globe, one foot resting on a couple of books.
Why Ferdinand and Isabella? Does anyone know the original purpose or owner of the building?

Tuesday 17 May 2011

Vintners Place, Queen Street Place EC4

Bang up against the end of Thames House is Vintner's Place, a disgusting parody of classical architecture erected by the Vintner's Company in 1990. The designers were Whinney Mackay-Lewis & Partnership. Mr Whinney, Mr Mackay-Lewis and all the Partners should be ashamed of themselves. The building replaced an Art Deco office block of 1927 called Vintry House that stuck up through the sightlines to St Paul's, making its demolition a condition of redevelopment. The developers mercifully spared the portico to Vintry House and its lovely sculpture of a nude Bacchante with goats, carved by Herbert Palliser.
It is an interesting contrast with the nudes all over Thames House next door. She stands full frontal, her hands raised to hold bunches of grapes over her shoulder, which accentuates her nudity. The goats look up from below and doves look down from above, focusing the entire composition on one particular spot. Is it just me, or is this the sexiest sculpture in London?
The model was Leopoldine Avico, one of the three Avico daughters of an Italian living on Soho, who were something of an institution at the Slade between the wars.
The composition is framed by a pair of swans, reminding us that the Vintner's Company is one of the three owners of all the swans on the upper Thames, the others being the Dyers and HM the Queen. Vintner's swans are traditionally marked with nicks on either side of the beak, the word 'nick' being corrupted to 'neck' in the pub sign 'Swan with Two Necks'.
Unfortunately, the Vintry House portal was crammed against the south facade of Thames House, concealing several of Richard Garbe's sculptures from view. All you can see from the street is a tantalising glimpse of some putti, one writing in an exercise book.

Tuesday 3 May 2011

Thames House, Queen Street Place EC4

Thames House was built in 1911 for Liebig's Extract of Meat Company, which made a Bovril-like goo from boiled up cows at a huge plant in Fray Bentos in Uruguay. It later became famous for the Oxo cube.
Thames House was designed by Stanley Hamp in the big Baroque he used before he went Art Deco, and the facade has lots of jolly figures from several good sculptors. It is admirably free of cow-related imagery.
The Southwark Bridge facade is arranged as two wings with an entrance block in the middle and pavilions at either end. The sculpture on the north pavilion is by Richard Garbe, son of a Dalston manufacturer of ivory and tortoiseshell goods. As well as architectural sculpture he produced much work in ivory and ceramic figurines for Doulton.
A pair of nude figures hold a strop to tame the winged horse Pegasus, who beats the cloud with his hooves in his struggle. They look strangely casual.
The central entrance of Thames House features figures representing Abundance, by Frank Lynn-Jenkins.
On the left a woman holds a cornucopia of fruits of the land, on the right a man pours out water from a jar. Between them is a pair of steer's horns, one of the few references to the source of the money that paid for this tremendous building - South American beef.
Above, a trio of chubby cherubs hold up a shield with the date, 1911.
Note the sensitive positioning of the 'No Parking' sign right in front of the main entrance. Having trouble with chauffeurs, were we?

The south pavilion of Thames House features more sculpture by Richard Garbe.
The subject is the abundance of ag and fish (again), but officially entitled The Fruits of Land and Water.
A woman on the left holds a sheaf and fruit, Neptune on the right holds a trident and a rope for his net, with which he has caught a great big cod. Between them is a boy throwing a scarf over his head.
The capitals at the top of the columns (probably not by Garbe but by the firm that did the rest of the stonework) are unusual designs with an owl for wisdom (note the book it is standing on) and an eagle for courage (are those thunderbolts clutched in his talons?).
The south pavilion has a particularly lavish doorway surmounted by an arch over a circular window or oculus. The spandrels over the arch contain bas reliefs of women denoting Commerce (left) and Wisdom (r), by Richard Garbe.
Commerce holds a caduceus and brandishes an oak branch, symbol of endurance and fortitude. Above, wheels with wings symbolise trade. Wisdom holds a torch and proffers a laurel branch, symbol of victory. Above, a dove with an olive branch in her beak brings peace.
Between the two, the wise owl stands on a scroll, supported by a small boy kneeling in the keystone of the arch. The owl holds a just balance in her beak.
The lintel over the main door is decorated with swirling hippocampi and supports a curious bronze sailing ship by the metalworker William Bainbridge Reynolds. It is the shortest ship in history, with just one mast, but the stern is as ornately carved as any galleon so it must make a splendid sight from the room inside. Unfortunately, they don't seem to care - in the photo you can clearly see a corporate minion sitting with his back to it, speaking on the phone.

Monday 2 May 2011

Five Kings House, Queen Street Place EC4

Five Kings House was originally the northern end of Thames House, built for Liebig's Extract of Meat Company by Stanley Hamp in 1911, but was divided off in 1990.

The grand entrance on the corner with Upper Thames Street is enlivened by a pair of figures by George Duncan Macdougald, who mainly did portrait busts.
The male figure on the left has winged feet so must be Mercury. He seems to be grasping something, and there is a pair of holes in the wall opposite, so did he originally have a bronze caduceus?
The female figure is wearing (well, almost wearing) a hood but it is unclear what she represents.
A carved coat of arms over the door includes the head of a steer so it must be that of the Liebig company.
Above, a pair of charming putti with harebell hats hold a shield.