Wednesday 29 February 2012

Bank of England, Lothbury EC2

The back of the Bank of England, facing Lothbury, has four statues of females known locally as the Lothbury Ladies, carved by Sir Charles Wheeler in 1932-1937 for the rebuilt Bank.
The pair on the eastern pavillion stand in front of cornucopias and piles of money, repeating themes on the Threadneedle Street facade. Wheeler was slightly queasy about this, feeling that they sent the wrong signal at a time of financial crisis (Britain had just been forced off the gold standard).
He wrote to the architect, Sir Herbert Baker, who clearly told him not to be silly.
The current crisis shows that Wheeler was right to be sensitive about this - the image of the Bank pouring our money all over the City is one that is all too thought-provoking in these days of quantitative easing.
The Ladies on the western pavillion hold children, a boy and a girl. I am reminded by this of the weight of debt we have crippled our children with, but perhaps I should stop obsessing about how evil bankers are.

The last statue on the exterior of the Bank of England is a portrait of the architect of the previous building, Sir John Soane. 
It was commissioned at the suggestion of the architect of the replacement structure, Sir Herbert Baker. One would like to think that Baker wanted to make some sort of gesture of apology or atonement, but this seems unlikely as he was a pretty robust sort of man.

The figure is by Sir William Reid Dick. The great architect is shown wearing a full-length cloak and holding a bundle of drawings and a set square. The niche is decorated with the neo-Grecian motifs associated with his style.
The irony of placing a tribute to the architect actually on the sad ruins of his masterpiece was not lost on critics, especially as it is so close to Soane's much loved Tivoli Corner which Baker had promised to preserve but actually totally rebuilt. He is lucky to have his back turned to an act of vandalism more brutal than anything the Luftwaffe achieved. Indeed, nothing illustrates the Nazi's abysmal cultural values than that fact that the Bank was untouched in the blitz.

Sunday 12 February 2012

Bank of England, Threadneedle Street EC2

The Bank of England was a masterpiece by one of Britain's greatest architects, Sir John Soane, which was scandalously destroyed in the 1930s.
The fact that Soane's fortress-like wall round the old building was preserved as a platform for the new only rubs salt into the wound. But Sir Herbert Baker's pompous neo-Georgian monstrosity is adorned with some of Sir Charles Wheeler's best work.
The pediment at the top frames the Lady of the Bank, the successor to a statue of Britannia that had inspired the Bank of England's nickname 'the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street'.
Charles Wheeler's dynamic figure of girl seated on the globe with her cape billowing behind and a shower of gold coins to one side emphasises the world-wide reach of the Bank. She holds a model of the Bank itself, like those medieval statues of bishops holding models of their cathedrals.
The statue was the subject of attacks from all quarters from the moment it was unveiled in 1930. The Evening Standard wrote:
"Miss Threadneedle Street is wearing a permanent wave and not a great deal else...[she] appears in the act of removing her bath-robe; but in place of the cake of soap that she should by rights be fondling she is dandling on her knee what looks like a small Greek temple. This may be her bath salts - they are put up very elaborately these days - or again it may be a toy savings bank...For the rest, the lady has a very hard eye, a disagreeable mouth, and hands only a shade less elephantiasic than Rima's own."
Notice how Epstein manages to get into every public row about sculpture, even when it is nothing to do with him? Rima was already 10 years old and it still rankled.
A group of stockholders waged a vigorous campaign against Wheeler's work, calling them 'very extraordinary monstrosities' but luckily got nowhere. 
The new Bank's main portico has a rusticated base with a big entrance arch that makes no sense because it opens onto the roof of Soane's old building.
On either side of the arch are six statues by Charles Wheeler, conventionally referred to as caryatids (female) and telemones (male), but they aren't really because caryatids and telemones have to support parts of a building on their heads and these don't. They are more like buttresses really.
The male figures represent custodianship, according to Herbert Baker's diaries. They carry chains, keys or banners. The women hold cornucopias, a great symbol of quantitative easing. That's our money they're pouring out all over a grateful City.
The three figures to the right of the central arch:
And those to the left: