Bob Speel's Website - A Selection of Iconic Sculpture in London

There are perhaps as many as 10 or a dozen famous or iconic pieces of sculpture in London, in terms of being recognisable or catching the spirit of the times. This page lists them - click on the pictures to enlarge in the usual way - and provides links to other bits of this website providing more detail on some of the works and the sculptors.

Statue of Eros, by Alfred Gilbert.

The Statue of Eros in Piccadilly Circus is probably the most famous of all London statues, featuring in innumerable promotional adverts for London, being the symbol of the London evening newspaper, the Evening Standard, and being centrally placed in a tourist destination. Yet it is merely the summit of the Shaftsbury Memorial, commemorating the philanthropic activity of the 7th Lord Shaftsbury, who spoke out against child chimney-sweeps, supported the Ragged Schools, and proposed the return of the Jewish people to Jerusalem, among other things. It was Alfred Gilbert, the sculptor, who proposed that rather than some bust of Shaftsbury, there should be the summit figure, actually intended as emblematic of charity rather than an Eros. And now Shaftsbury is just one of a number of 19th Century philanthropists, unknown to most, and the monument is simply known as the Statue of Eros. More on this work on this page.

Nelson's Column, and Nelson, by Baily.

Nelson on his Column is our second iconic or famous London statue, again, familiar from much promotional and travel literature, and with the column used as a unit of measurement, as in a tower block being ‘so many times as high as Nelson’s Column’. Like Eros at Piccadilly Circus, Nelson is in another of the Capital’s most important public spaces, Trafalgar Square. A moment’s reflection will allow the viewer to conclude that being at the top of a 150 ft column, the statue of Nelson must itself be very large, and indeed, it is some 18ft tall. Even so, being viewed from such a distance, and, if close to the column, at an extreme angle, the viewer can appreciate little of the detail except the distinctive hat and that his hand rests on the pommel of his sword. E. H. Baily was the sculptor. More on Nelson on this page.

One of Edwin Landseer's Lions, Trafalgar Square.

But of course Nelson is not the sole iconic statue in Trafalgar Square, for the four Landseer lions around the base share this distinction. Whereas the Nelson statue is inaccessible, seen mostly by squinting up at the bright sky, the Lions are close, immense, and eminently climbable by thousands of tourists every day – indeed, almost as iconic as the Lions themselves is the relaxed, laissez faire approach of the authorities so that they can be enjoyed in this way. Three cheers for tolerance… More information on the Lions on this page.

Albert Memorial, various sculptors, Prince Albert by Foley, and detail of tower. Architect: George Gilbert Scott.

The Albert Memorial in Hyde Park is our fourth iconic piece, and here it is the ensemble – at over 170ft a bit more than one Nelson’s column in height – rather than the figure of Albert which is iconic. In this case, the memorial is the epitome of High Victorian art and architecture, richly exuberant and confident, a match, in my view, to any sculptural work anywhere since the works of the Ancient Greeks. George Gilbert Scott was the architect, and several sculptors were involved in the various sculptural groups, single allegorical figures and the long frieze on the monument; the gilt statue of Prince Albert himself is by J.H. Foley. Lots more on this memorial, and lots of pictures, on this page. It looks particularly splendid in the snow – see this page.

Victoria Memorial, by Thomas Brock (architect: Aston Webb) .

If the Albert Memorial is iconic of Victorian sculpture, then the Victoria Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace is the iconic representation of Edwardian sculpture. Given its location, it is surely seen by more people than the Albert, and completes the vista of Buckingham Palace from any distance. The iconic nature is enhanced by the fact it shows the iconic Queen, with her unforgettable face, severe with heavily lidded eyes. Like Nelson, Queen Victoria is about 18ft high – but she is sitting down. The architect was Aston Webb, and the sculptor of the whole work was Thomas Brock. See this page for a fuller description.

The Wellington Memorial - Achilles, by Sir Richard Westmacott RA.

Five famous sculptures so far. Along with Nelson, the other national military hero is Wellington. Statues of Wellington do not rank as iconic, at least not in London, but no. 6 in our list, the Wellington Memorial, is certainly iconic – a giant nude figure of Achilles just by Hyde Park Corner, close to the Iron Duke’s residence of Apsley House. The sculptor was Sir Richard Westmacott RA, most successful of the Westmacott sculptor’s dynasty, modelling the figure closely on one of the Dioscuri statues in Rome. Several pictures may be found on this page.

Westmacott's pediment for the British Museum.

Our seventh iconic sculptural work is also by Westmacott, his last great work, occupying much of the last years of his life - the pediment of the British Museum. It is iconic because the British Museum is iconic, and most who comes there the first time stop as soon as they come through the main gate, seeing the huge and beautiful classical building in front of them, with its mighty Corinthian pillars – topped in the centre by the pediment. So many people take photographs of the pediment – how many ever actually look at it? It shows a Progress of Civilisation, with wild animals and savages to the left, somewhat educated by virtue of meeting an Angel of the Enlightenment, then the familiar triumvirate of allegorical figures of Architecture, Sculpture and Painting. The centremost figure, pretty civilised and standing, is Civilisation herself, impersonated as Science, and Mathematics (Geometry) is the seated figure next along. Then we have Theatre, or Drama, standing and holding a Comedy mask, and a pair of seated female figures, both with musical instruments, representing Music and (Lyric) Poetry. The final figure, a reclining Apollo-like man, is seated in an Arcadian scene of animals and putti and and represents the educated or fully Civilised Man. At the time the pediment was put up, in the 1850s, all the subjects indicated would have been represented in the Museum’s collections (some later moved to the new Natural History Museum), with the intent of converting the visitor into the Educated Man. More detail on this page.

Two views of Justice, Old Bailey, by Pomeroy.

Iconic sculpture number 8 is the statue of Justice on the Old Bailey, commonly pointed at by the cameras on TV news stories and documentaries involving the High Court. F. W. Pomeroy was the sculptor of the tall bronze figure, standing erect with sword raised up in one hand, scales in the other. Justice figures are common across the country (see this page), but it is this one which, by virtue of the building on which it stands, has become the iconic one. More pictures and information on this page.

Cumberland Terrace, architect: Nash; sculptor: Bubb.

Number 9, like Westmacott’s pediment for the British Museum, is iconic not for any individual statue, but for the ensemble, and the building on which they stand. The great works of the architect John Nash, long white and pinkish-coloured terraces of grand houses in a mix of Classical styles, is epitomised above all by the view of Cumberland Terrace from inside Regent’s Park. There is a pediment, busy with figures, white against blue (as the British Museum pediment would have had its background painted originally, incidentally). And on the top of the pediment, and on the balustrade here and on the side wings, are many standing figures. The sculptor is very obscure – J. G. Bubb, and some of the figures are lost and have been replaced by anodyne things from perhaps the 1970s, but the overall effect is spectacular, like some Hollywood film set of ancient Rome.

Marble Arch, and two of the high relief panels. John Nash, architect; Westmacott and Baily, sculptors.

Number 10 of our iconic sculptures is Marble Arch, a destination in its own right and the start of the shopping pilgrimage along Oxford Street, or the tourist’s wander into the Park and Speaker’s Corner. The Arch is by John Nash again, and the sculptural adornment is principally by Westmacott (again), and E. H. Baily; the upper sculptural frieze designed byJohn Flaxman were mostly removed to Buckingham Palace, and J. C. F. Rossi also contributed. The arch was originally for Buckingham Palace, when this was built up by Nash from the old Buckingham House, but moved in 1850 to its present location when the open courtyard to which the Arch had been the ceremonial entrance was closed off with a new block. Lots more about Marble Arch on this page.

Constitution Arch (Burton, architect), and the Quadriga (Adrian Jones, sculptor).

We could stop at ten iconic sculptures. But I wanted to include two more, which are the main two chariot sculptures in London. The first is on top of Constitution Arch, of similar date to Marble Arch, and by the architect Richard Burton, student of Nash who worked with him on some of the Regent’s Park terraces. This sculpture, known as the Quadriga, was only emplaced in 1912, and is by Adrian Jones. It is of perfect scale to the Arch, and gives splendid silhouettes against the sky from almost any angle.

Boadicea, by Thomas Thornycroft.

The second chariot on our list of iconic London sculptures, is Boadicea, by the Houses of Parliament just next to Westminster Bridge - see this page. To the Victorians, she was the epitome of the spirit of ancient Britain, stout defender of the nation, warlike and noble. She stands in her chariot, holding her spear, other arm raised to summon forth her fierce warriors, with two female attendants behind her. The horses are rearing with excitement, the sharpened blades protruding from the chariot wheels ready to wreak havoc among the Roman enemy. The sculptor was Thomas Thornycroft, father of the better known sculptor Hamo Thornycroft.

Selfridges' Queen of Time, by Gilbert Bayes.

Let us make it a baker's dozen by adding one more iconic statue, or group, which is the Queen of Time, the much admired allegorical statue in front of the clocks above the main entrance to Selfridges, in Oxford Street. She dates from around 1908, and stands on a ship's prow, accompanied by two beautiful mermaids, two winged attendants, and with further bronze statuary surrounding. The sculptor was Gilbert Bayes.

And that is it. It is tempting to include one more, which is the Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens, but I think it was better known a generation ago than today. The list is, of course, a personal list, and others may have different views on which London sculpture is truly iconic; if you wish to write to tell me, my email address is on the homepage linked below.

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London sculpture // Sculpture in England // Sculptors

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