Saturday 28 February 2015

Cavalry Memorial, Serpentine Road, Hyde Park W2

The Cavalry Memorial was erected in 1924 to honour the mounted soldier, a species of fighting man that had not only lost many thousands in the Great War but also seen its functions disappear. So it is appropriate that the monument should be an exercise in nostalgia for a lost age of chivalry and romance.
The figure of St George is by Adrian Jones, the army vet turned sculptor. He based the horse on a drawing by Durer and the figure on a 1454 effigy of the Earl of Warwick.
The dragon lies dead beneath the horse, a lance sticking out of his belly. The idea was to symbolise the end of tyranny, a point rammed home by giving the dragon the Kaiser's trademark upturned moustache.
The podium is decorated with a parade of cavalrymen from all the countries of the Empire that supplied units - you can see the Australians' wideawake hats, Indian and Sikh turbans, Mountie-style hats from Canada as well as solar topees and the steel helmets that most of them ended up wearing.
Despite Adrian Jones's military experience, the monument inevitably came in for furious criticism from former cavalrymen who wrote enraged letters to the Editor of the Times like this one:
"The memorial may be alright on artistic grounds but it will strike every properly trained cavalry officer with dismay. It is supposed to represent a column on the march in the formation known as half-sections, and in this formation it is essential that each pair ride a half horse's length behind the pair in front; a squadron proceeding in the manner depicted on the panel would suffer more casualties on the march than at the hands of the enemy. The column is presumably supposed to be moving forwards, but all the horses are reining back - except the one in the centre, which is being reined back but is moving forward. Must truth always be sacrificed to art? Young recruits will be shown the memorial as an example of how not to do it."
The memorial originally stood at the edge of the park opposite Dorchester House, in front of a rather grand stone screen by Sir John Burnet. Now Dorchester House has gone, Park Lane is a thundering dual carriageway and the Cavalry Memorial has been moved further inside the park, sadly shorn of its architectural setting.

Monday 16 February 2015

Mermaid Fountain, Hyde Park W1

The Mermaid Fountain is a copy in artificial stone of a work of some charm by William Robert Colton erected in about 1897.
According to Spielmann's British Sculpture and Sculptors of Today (1901), it was Colton's breakthrough work:
After he had studied in Paris, Mr. Colton first drew notice to himself with the fountain erected in Hyde Park, executed to the order of H. M.'s First Commissioner of Works during a lucid artistic interval of the Government. The influence of Mr. Alfred Gilbert seems to be in this charming production; but it is open to the criticism that the figure is abruptly cut off at the middle.
Indeed, it looks as though the girl is standing up wearing an enormous tutu.
Sadly, the artificial stone copy (made in the 1970s) has not worn well and, as an added indignity, the poor mermaid seems to have been renamed Little Nell for no readily apparent reason. 
Where is the original?