Saturday 27 February 2016

Lincolns Inn Fields WC2

John Hunter was 'the founder of scientific surgery', according to the brass plaque on the side of his bust located close to the museum that bears his name.
The lively bronze was sculpted by Nigel Boonham in 1977 to celebrate the Queen's Silver Jubilee (Her Madge is Visitor and Hon Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, where the Hunterian museum is housed.)
Hunter's vast collection of bits of human stuff was the result of a lifetime of investigation - he famously said "Why think, why not try the experiment?" This dedication to the scientific method didn't mean he was right all the time, however. He thought syphilis and gonorrhea were the same disease and advocated mercury for both. Such was his reputation this was unquestioningly accepted and the truth was not discovered for over 50 years.

Friday 5 February 2016

St Clements Building, Clare Market WC2

It's hard to believe, but this anodyne mosaic provoked a furious reaction when it was unveiled, with calls from both extremes of the political spectrum for its removal.
It was created by glass artist Harry Warren Wilson when the building was modernised for the London School of Economics in 1959-61. Originally constructed in 1898 as a print works for the Financial Times and a publication called Votes for Women, the conversion involved stripping it back to its steel frame and adding a clean, modern but boring new facade.
Wilson's mural is the only decorative touch, illustrating the Thames from Woolwich to Battersea in vitreous mosaic. Aluminium cutouts represent the various academic fields of interest of the LSE, From the top, they are a clipper ship for commerce; a plane for transport; the Royal Exchange for finance; Justicia for the law; the Houses of Parliament for government and Battersea Power Station for industry.
Sue Donnelly, the LSE's archivist, tells me that the mosaic was so unpopular a motion requesting its removal was presented to the Academic Board.
"I think the argument about removing the mosaic was a reflection of the artistic conservatism of the academic body – indeed it is a debate that finds political opponents Kenneth Minogue and Ralph Milliband in agreement – which must have been a first. Interestingly today people either like the mosaic or are indifferent – it doesn’t appear to arouse great passions," Sue writes.
Indeed, a cause that united arch-conservative Minogue and foaming radical Milliband must have been passionately held.
Fortunately, the Board managed to work out that the cost of ripping it off and replacing it with windows was prohibitive.

Wednesday 3 February 2016

The Young Lovers, Festival Gardens EC4

The Young Lovers is a piece by Austrian-born artist Georg Ehrlich. It was created in 1951 for the second open air sculpture exhibition in Battersea Park, held at the same time as the Festival of Britain.
Festival Gardens were the City of London's contribution to the nationwide jamboree, also intended as a war memorial. They were laid out by Sir Albert Richardson, who designed a fountain with bronze lion's head spouts but no other sculpture.
However, in 1969 money for public sculpture became available at just the moment when The Young Lovers came on the market. Ehrlich himself had died in 1966, So now this elegant, optimistic, idealistic couple, clothed in just the right amount of tulle to avoid public comment, canoodle gently on the sunny side of the cathedral.
Ehrlich, a Jew, was a leading exponent of Viennese expressionism. When the Nazis moved in he was in London and wisely stayed, getting his wife to follow him with as many of his works as she could bring. They became naturalised Britons after the war.

Monday 1 February 2016

St Paul's Churchyard EC4

John Donne is commemorated by two statues in St Paul's, the famous image within the cathedral of his corpse in a winding sheet by Nicholas Stone, and now this one in the churchyard. It is by Nigel Boonham, cast in bronze in 2012.
The poet and churchman is shown facing west but looking south towards his birthplace close by in Bread Street. For Donne, east was the direction of the rising sun, Jerusalem and hope, while west was the way of decline and death, and beneath the bust is inscribed a line from Good Friday 1613, Riding Westward:
Hence is't, that I am carried towards the West,
This day, when my Soul's form bends to the East