Thursday 31 May 2012

St Bartholomew House, Fleet Street EC4

This attractive Arts and Craft block of 1900 is by Herbert Huntly-Gordon, presumably one of that architect's speculative developments.
Letting income is maximised by placing as much shop front as possible at street level. This squeezes the door to the offices a little bit, but Huntly-Gordon makes up for the lack of width by adding a lovely adornment of putti by Gilbert Seale. Both architect and sculptor sign the piece, unusually.
The one on the left is more or less a standard model putto with feathery wings and a bow, carrying a quiver, but the one on the right is decidedly odd with what look like butterfly wings and flowers in its hair. Is it a boy or a girl?
The balcony of the open loggia on the fourth floor is supported by a line of attractive heads of putti. Are they also by Seale or was a journeyman mason brought in?

Tuesday 22 May 2012

Caltex House, Brompton Road SW1

Triga is a trio of racehorses made in 1957 by the Czech-born sculptor Frantisek ('Franta') Belsky. They spring out of the corner of the podium of Caltex House in the Brompton Road, commemorating the site's former use as Tattersall's auction yard.
Belsky was born in Brno in 1921 and grew up in Prague, but his family fled to London when the Nazis took over. He studied under Gilbert Ledward at the RCA at intervals dictated by service in the exiled Czech army including the D-day landings.
After the war he returned to Prague but had to leave again when the Communists seized power in 1948. Thereafter he forged a career in London, specialising in commissions for sculpture in specific locations. "I find nothing more enjoyable - and testing - than designing for a specific site and letting the locality, its use and the life in it, condition my sculptural decisions," he wrote. He also executed portraits of many members of the Royal family and statesmen including Churchill.
Triga is made rather unexpectedly of reinforced concrete coated in some sort of metallic plastic. As with all Belsky's sculptures, it contains an empty Guinness bottle, the day's newspaper, a sixpence and a note stating that he was the artist.

Thursday 17 May 2012

Imperial Airways Empire Terminal, Buckingham Palace Road SW1

So this is where the Speedbird logo of British Airways comes from. The sculpture is called Speed Wings over the World and it is by Eric Broadbent, who seems to be known mainly just for this work.
The building, now the National Audit Office, was built to the designs of Albert Lakeman in 1937/9. It was strategically located next to Victoria Station so passengers, mail and cargo could be loaded onto trains and sent to Southampton where they were transferred to the flying boats that took them to India, Australia and Africa. Of course, you didn't need a passport then because it was all British.
The title is a bit ambitious - at the time it took nearly a month to get to Australia. Planes used to land for overnight stops that were excuses for taking tours, shopping and dining on a heroic scale.
After the war, Imperial Airways was merged with British Airways, the then European carrier, to form BOAC. It used the terminal until the 1970s.

Sunday 13 May 2012

137 Long Acre WC2

This Mercers' Maiden is unusual in being made of ironstone ceramic tile to match the finish of the building, a shop dating from 1906 in Long Acre, Covent Garden.