THAMES-SIDE ART II

Boudicca in pride of place by Westminster Bridge.

Beginning where I left off in the last article, with some of the varied works of art to be found along the central London Thames, here is another view of Thomas Thornycroft’s heroic statue of Boudicca on the west side of the river. In full charging mode she appears to be heading south towards the Palace of Westminster…

The South Bank Lion.

Often passed with rarely an upward glance by the thousands thronging across Westminster Bridge, the South Bank Lion looks wistfully to the east. Sculpted by William F. Woodington in Coade stone, and originally painted red, he first stood at the top of the Lion Brewery facing theThames in 1837 and remained there, surviving among widespread bomb damage to the surrounding area during the Second World War. Saved by a London-wide petition strongly aided by the advocacy of King George VI when the brewery was demolished, it was installed outside Waterloo Station, one of the entrances to the Festival of Britain in 1951. The Lion was finally, restored in 1966 and placed close to Westminster Bridge where it now stands. See: London’s Favourite Lion.

The RAF Memorial.

The golden eagle presiding over the Royal Air Force Memorial and shining proudly across the Thames, was designed by William Reid Dick and stands on the top of the monument designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield. Completed in 1923, it was dedicated to the airmen who died in the First World War. “In 1946 additional inscriptions were added in memory of those who lost their lives in the Second World War. On September 15 every year the Chief of the Air Staff places a wreath at the foot of the Memorial to commemorate Battle of Britain Day, and every Remembrance Day the Fund lays a wreath.” From the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund.

Cleopatra’s Needle

Ellen Castelow writes that “Britain wanted something big and noticeable to commemorate the British victory over Napoleon sixty-three years earlier.” After a hazardous journey from Alexandria, which nearly saw the 3,500 year old artefact sink into the sea, Cleopatra’s needle arrived to cheering London crowds in January 1878.

Living statue on the South Bank.

Across the river from Cleopatra’s Needle is one of my favourite sections of the South Bank: the stretch of embankment between the London Eye and the Hungerford Railway Bridges. For it is here that hundreds of *living statues* have over the years, delighted crowds with their imaginative costumes and their ability to stand absolutely motionless until a coin is dropped into a hat, or bowl beneath their feet. And then you might have a smile, a nod of the head, or a gentle wave.

Living statue of Neptune owning the Thames.
A Cavalier takes a break.
Jubilee Oracle sculpted by Alexander in 1980.

Close by the living sculptures is an abstract sculpture, un-noticed by the majority of South Bank crowds: ‘The Jubilee Oracle’ cast in bronze resting on black marble. Sculptor Alexander whose works can be found in art museums around the world, writes that his work was “influenced by Henry Moore, who later became a good friend, and Barbara Hepworth, who I never met.” The inscription on the black marble below explains his philosophy: “Mankind is capable of an awareness that is outside the range of everyday life. My monumental sculptures are created to communicate with that awareness in a way similar to classical music. Just as most symphonies are not intended to be descriptive so these works do not represent figures or objects.” And this sculpture evokes that awareness.

Moinument dedicated to Samuel Plimsoll.

A celebratory monument dedicated to Samuel Plimsoll, stands on the opposite side of the river on Victoria Embankment. As a member of parliament, his campaign against the overloading of cargo ships eventually led to the Merchant Shipping Act of 1876, which made law the use of loading marks on the side of ships. Known as the Plimsoll Line “They consisted of a circle with a line through it at the level the water would reach when the ship was fully loaded.” Despite fierce opposition from *interested* parties, his determination to see the Act through Parliament won the day and thereby thousands of seafarers’ lives were saved. The inscription on the monument reads: “Erected by the members of the National Union of Seamen, in grateful recognition of his services to the men of the sea of all nations.”

Father Thames looking out from an arch along King’s Reach, on of many depictions of Father Thames along the river.

The stone head of Father Thames looks out somewhat mournfully from an arch along King’s Reach.

Skateboarding in the Undercroft.

Art is in a constant state of flux beneath the Southbank Centre as bright graffiti murals come and go in a flash, leaping across your sightline as do the gutsy, gravity defying skateboarders and bikers darting about the Undercroft

Bubbles

To the delight of children, and many grown-ups, there are often street performers blowing bubbles along the riverside. Every prolonged breath creating a new picture.

T.S. Eliot: From the Waste Land

Etched into the pavements, not far from the National Theatre and Southbank Centre, you can see verses written about the Thames by famous poets. They are all damaged now, even this, my favourite, one of the many references to the Thames, from The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot.

Antony Gormley sculpture on Waterloo Bridge.

Here standing on Waterloo Bridge, is just one of Antony Gormley’s statues cast from his own body form, and part of a large-scale sculptural project called Event Horizon which appeared in 2007. Thirty-one statues were placed on buildings close to the Thames, the idea being to encourage the looking up above street level, however there was some concern that the sculptures were real people contemplating suicide.

Father Thames as part of George Vulliamy’s dolphin lamp structure, reproduced along the Queen’s Walk in 1964.
Sir Laurence Olivier as Hamlet.

Sculptor Angela Conner’s statue of Laurence Olivier, one of Britain’s most famous actors, in a dramatic pose, stands on a plinth in Theatre Square facing the entrance to the theatre that bears his name and with whose creation he was closely involved.

London Pride sculpture by Frank Dobson RA outside the National Theatre

Originally created in plaster for the Festival of Britain in 1951, the sculpture ‘London Pride’ by Frank Dobson was recast in bronze in 1987 and set outside the National Theatre on the South Bank. It started out as part of an artistic programme for the Festival of Britain featuring over thirty sculptures by leading British artists of the day.

Dragon emerging onto Gabriel’s Wharf beach from the depths of the Thames.

Ephemeral art dictated by the rhythm of the tides, is one of the pleasures to discover along the shore of Gabriel’s Wharf. Sand sculptures, some in great detail, others such as a sofa on which the artist sits until completely surrounded by water, have more of a traditional sandcastle feel.

Fairy tale castle below Gabriel’s Wharf.
The Coat of Arms of the London Chatham & Dover Railway on the southern end of Blackfriars Railway Bridge, 1864.

As you walk along the Thames Path, heading downstream passing beneath the Blackfriars Bridges, you will come across the splendid London, Chatham and Dover railway coat of arms with the shields of London, Kent, Rochester and Dover dated 1864. A real statement of pride in the age of steam trains.

City of London dragon.

Further downstream you will come across another statement of pride, one of the City of London’s boundary dragons set on the east side of London Bridge. Ian Mansfield writes that the design is “based on two huge dragons that once stood above the entrance to the Coal Exchange.” An impressive building opened in 1849 it was demolished in 1962, an act of vandalism described by Lost Architecture as “one of the great conservationist horror stories.”

The Monument, commemorating the Great Fire of London in 1666.

Seen from across the river, or fleetingly as you pass by on a boat, The Monument commemorates the Great Fire of London in 1666, which destroyed or severely damaged many thousands of houses and businesses. It was designed by Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke.

Elephant Parade in London, 2010.

Just a few of the painted elephants in London’s 2010 ‘Elephant Parade’ that brightened the riverside and parts of the city. There were 250 elephants standing or sitting, each designed and decorated by a different artist. In June 2010, an auction of the elephants raised four million pounds which went to secure a vital area of elephant habitat in Kerala, India.

The Olympic Rings on Tower Bridge 2012.

Unveiled in June 2012, a month before the opening of the Olympic Games in London, the distinctive Olympic rings, conceived by Pierre de Coubertin in 1913, gave an extra dimension to London’s most famous landmark. Looking back, it seems that the pride and togetherness felt by so many across the country then has for the moment been lost…

To be continued…

Sources and Further information
See article by Ian Visits ‘A History of the South Bank Lion’.
The Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund, RAF Memorial.
Article by Ellen Castelow: Cleopatra’s Needle
See article London Details on Plimsoll and his monument by Baldwin Hamey, also the Science Photo Library.
Sculptor of London Pride Frank Dobson.
History of The Monument.
For the story behind the City of London dragons, read Ian Visits
The London Elephant Parade, 2010.

Thames-side art 1

Opening with the Battersea Park Peace Pagoda, one of the varied works of art to be found along the central London Thames, I’ll be zigzagging downstream across the river in space and time with photographs of some of the work that has caught my eye.
The Peace Pagoda in the photograph above was given to London in 1984 by Nichidatsu Fujii a Japanese Buddhist monk, who in 1947 began the construction of Peace Pagoda shrines around the world. Taken on June 3, 2012 this photograph, on the occasion of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, shows a barge below the Pagoda carrying a new peal of bells destined for St. James Garlickhythe, before taking her place at the head of the Thames Jubilee Pageant to Tower Bridge.

The bas-relief mural of ‘Old Father Themes’ by Stephen Duncan, upstream from Vauxhall Bridge.

A naked, muscular, mythical Old Father Thames, throwing his weight around among creatures unlikely to have been found in the river. However, since the Thames was declared to have been “biologically dead” in 1958, by 2020, after sustained conservation efforts, the Zoological Society of London, reported that 125 species of fish had been listed and that life has returned to the river. Mammals have returned as well, particularly seals and, as some of you may remember, a whale made its way upstream in 2006, but sadly died after a concerted rescue attempt. So perhaps Duncan’s bas-relief is true to the natural history of the river after all.

Figure of Pottery by Frederick W. Pomeroy on the upstream side of Vauxhall Bridge, a reminder of the Doulton pottery that existed for many years by the river in Vauxhall.

Pottery is one of eight sculptures decorating Vauxhall Bridge, my favourite, and her air of quiet contemplation seems to give an aura of calm over the constant movement of the tides. She stands there in recognition of the famous Doulton’s Lambeth Pottery which was nearby.

‘Rising Tide’ by Jason DeCaires Taylor on the Thames foreshore at Vauxhall.

DeCaires Taylor’s ‘Rising Tide’ sculptures installed on the Lambeth Reach foreshore for a just a month in September 2015, were topical then and even more so now. Pumpjack, nodding horses’ heads and figures representing the hope of young people contrasted with the indifference of businessmen, were twice daily slowly immersed in the river with the rising of the tide.

‘Shapes in the Clouds II’ by Peter Randall-Page.

Set close by Vauxhall Bridge for some time, Peter Randall-Page’s sculpture ‘Shapes in the Clouds II’, carved from Rosso Luana marble, caught my eye as its whirling mass of shapes are often echoed by the different cloud reflections swirling in the currents of the Thames below.

‘Love, Aluminium’ by Lorenzo Quinn, on Riverside Walk Gardens, Millbank.

‘Love, Aluminium’ by Lorenzo Quinn was installed in 2017 and stood gleaming for a while on Millbank’s Riverside Walk Gardens.

The statue dedicated to Basaveshwara, a 12th Century Indian philosopher, social reformer, statesman and poet.

Set on the banks of the Thames with views across to the Palace of Westminster the memorial to Basaveshwara celebrates his advocation, far back in the 12th century, of what were to evolve as “core British values of freedom of speech, respect and tolerance.” Values now under threat these days and needing more than ever to be upheld.

‘Locking Piece’ by Henry Moore.

Henry Moore’s powerful, chunky ‘Locking Piece’ 1963-4, on loan from the Tate Gallery, overlooks the Thames and a landmark *government* building on the far shore.

Phoebus or Apollo, god of the sun, on his chariot by Gilbert Bayes.

One of the sculptural reliefs by Gilbert Bayes, adding mythological glamour to the restrained brickwork of No. 8 Albert Embankment. See more with a click here.

Seafarers’ Memorial, 2001, by Michael Sandle.

Watching over the Thames close to Lambeth Bridge, the sailor on Michael Sandle’s monumental sculpture is poised to help moor his ship. The sculpture stands in the entrance of The International Maritime Organisation headquarters on the Albert Embankment. To discover more see here.

The National Covid Memorial Wall.

Looking across from Lambeth Bridge, the National Covid Memorial Wall gives an illusion of colourful normality but it’s only when you get close to it that you notice the thousands upon thousands of individual hearts, each one in memory of a cherished family member or friend whose often lonely death from Covid, has touched all those around them.

Lion drinking…

One of the hundreds of bronze lion’s heads sculpted by Timothy Butler in 1868. As many of you will know, the saying goes “When the lions drink, London will sink” and other versions of the same idea progress to: “If water’s up to their manes, we’ll be going down drains; and also, If the lions are ducked, then London is f…” That might have been true initially but the embankments were raised after London was flooded with loss of life in 1928, and though water levels have risen, London is for the moment protected by the Thames Barrier.

The Buxton Memorial, Victoria Tower Gardens.

Both the Buxton Memorial above and Rodin’s sculpture of the Burghers of Calais in the picture below, stand in Victoria Tower Gardens, adjacent to the Palace of Westminster, a World Heritage site next to the Thames. Sadly the future of the Gardens is still uncertain… Click here to discover their history and why keeping them open for all is so important.

Rodin’s ‘Burghers of Calais’ in Victoria Tower Gardens.
One of the hundreds of ‘dolphin’ lamps along the river.

The ‘dolphin’ lamps designed by George Vulliamy, can be seen between Vauxhall and Blackfriars Bridges on the South Bank, and along the Victoria Embankment on the north side of the river. See here for more detail.

Monument dedicated to Violette Szarbo, and the brave members of the S.O.E.

Violette Szarbo’s exceptional courage in WW2 as a member of the S.O.E. earned her the posthumous awards of both the George Cross and the Croix de Guerre. Her bust is set at the top of a monument dedicated to the selfless courage of all those who served in Churchill’s ‘Secret Army’, from where she looks out across the Thames to the Palace of Westminster. Made of bronze she was sculpted by Karen Newman. On the plinth below is a tribute to “all the courageous S.O.E. Agents: those who did survive and those who did not survive their perilous missions. Their services were beyond the call of duty. In the pages of history their names are carved with pride.” Discover the Violette Szarbo Museum and read her story here. See the unveiling of the Memorial by the Duke of Wellington here.

The National Covid Memorial Wall.

Family members and passers by wonder at these sad heart tributes to victims of Covid. Composer Mark Ward’s words seem appropriate here: “A storm of souls is battened on silence in the sky, begging for remission and another chance to die.” © Mark Ward, 1986.

Boudicca leading a charge.

And lastly in Part I, there is the bronze statue of Boudicca, her daughters crouching forward on either side, as she leads her attacking forces towards the Roman occupiers in 60 AD. Her statue was designed by sculptor Thomas Thornycroft, and Prince Albert and Queen Victoria were said to have been “closely involved […] Prince Albert even lent Thornycroft horses from the royal stables to act as models for Boudicca’s horses”. However, for various reasons, including finance and debate about the choice of a site, the commission took a long time to complete and Thornycroft died in 1885. Obstacles eventually overcome, his son, Sir John Isaac Thornycroft finally presented the statue and Boudicca was installed above Westminster Pier.

To be continued…