Thursday 25 August 2011

37 Harley Street W1

Frederick Emil Eberhard Schenck was, as you might expect from the name, a native of Edinburgh (his father was an artist who had emigrated from Germany).
He began his career in the plastic arts as a modeler for various potteries in Stoke on Trent but his particular specialism, a technique called pate-sur-pate, fell out of favour because of its very high costs. So he left Stoke for London and set up as an architectural sculptor.
In 1899 he was commissioned by the architect Beresford Pite to carve the decoration on a particularly ornate office block on Harley Street.
The corner site is emphasised by an oriel window with an implied cupola on top, with an aspiring female wearing a cowl and holding her arm aloft amid what seem to be palm leaves.
It is difficult to discern a theme in the various low relief panels on the facade. Often, the original occupier gives a clue but I haven't been able to discover who that was.
On the upper storey of the corner bay window, Schenk has placed a pair of female figures of Spring and Autumn on either side of the Angel of Judgement with her scales and sword.
The lower storey has a female spreading out a scroll, flanked by children carrying a posy and a torch. She could be a personification of Fame.
To her left is a man wearing a laurel wreath sitting in front of a line of volumes marked Homer and Milton, who must be Poetry. To Fame's right is a rather ambivalent figure clasping his brow in one hand and a slim volume in the other. Could this be a poet that Fame has overlooked - a mute inglorious Milton, possibly?

The bay window on the Queen Anne Street facade is decorated with the figures of Day and Night. 
Day is a woman reclining in a Roman-style columned attic, catching a few rays. She holds something in her right hand - a notebook? an abacus? 
Night is an astronomer with a telescope and a celestial globe. The sky is studded with stars that look like paper stars cut out by a child and pasted to the window. He supports his elbow on a pile of books, presumably star atlases.

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