Boer War Memorial, Cardiff, by Albert Toft - Sculpture of the Month - May 2017

Cardiff Boer War Memorial, by Albert Toft.

The figure of the angel on the Boer War Memorial in Cardiff makes this one of the most beautiful monuments of its time to grace any British city. Her face is very beautiful, very turn of the 19th Century, with symmetrically parted hair forming an upside down heart shape around her face, as if the setting for some jewel. You could describe this face as Art Nouveau, and the whole figure could equally be called Symbolist in its symmetrical, evocative pose.

Albert Toft's Symbolist Angel of Peace, different aspects.

She is an Angel of Peace, and carries a tall, uprooted shrub, with a few leaves, and dove newly landed upon it. She clasps the shrub against the crook of one arm, while the other is downward and outward from her body, palm downwards, and with the exception of these arms, she stands entirely symmetrically, looking straight ahead, rather short wings outspread to the sides, feet together as she has just descended on a small flattened globe. She wears the lightest of drapery, a short-sleeved dress down to her ankles. The garment is taut across her breasts and stomach, loose on her upper arms, and from waist level down, has the most delicate and wispy of creases across her legs, broadening to heavier, floating folds to the sides. The front parts of her wings spread around her sides onto her stomach, forming flower-like decorations with the short feathers

Our Angel, in dark bronze, stand on a tall, square plinth of limestone, and to the sides are two subsidiary plinths, each bearing a seated figure. On the one side is a figure of Warfare, squatting with one leg up, arms to the sides, and head turned sharply to our right as we look at him (some allegorical figures of War are on this page). He looks slightly downwards, and his face, though youthful, is careworn and he frowns slightly. His chest is bare, muscular, his hands powerful, and in one of them he clasps a short sword like a Roman gladius; behind his other arm is his round shield. He wears thick drapes over his lower body and legs, and a thinner drape hangs from a standard behind, over his arms. Behind his head, on the plinth is a plaque bearing the names of two battles, Paadeberg and Driefonteine, between shields styled as cartouches.

Allegorical figures of Warfare and Grief, and bust of Grief.

On the other side, we see a female figure, an allegory of Grief, though she could just as well have been Peace, were she not the angel on top of the memorial. She is crouched down in a similar pose to Warfare. Her face is reminiscent of that of the Angel, with the firm line to the chin, heavily lidded eyes, and wide, rather thin mouth slightly downward turned at the ends. Her hair is wrapped, in a fashion reminiscent of some of Burne-Jonesís paintings. There is something of strength in her neck, shoulders, and arms. One hand holds her wreath of olive leaves, the other is in a graceful gesture above her knee. She wears a long-sleeved upper garment, caught with a thin strap above her breasts. As with the angel, her breasts and stomach are outlined by the thin fabric, but beneath, she has thick skirts wrapped around her waist and hanging down to her bare feet. Behind her are the names of Johannesburg and Belfast (i.e. where soldiers departed from the end of the war, and returned to in the UK), again with cartouche-like shields.

The memorial, which was erected in 1908, commemorates the officers, non-commissioned officers and men of the various Welsh regiments who fell in South Africa Boer War, or South African War, 1899-1902; the list of the Fallen, on two plaques, is very long, something over 800 names, and was recut in the 2000s.

Boer War Memorial with Cardiff City Hall behind.

The sculptor, Albert Toft, signs the base of each figure. He was an important New Sculptor, thus one of those who was trained in the French style, and moved from the cool Classicism of the previous generation to a more naturalistic, expressive style of figure sculpture. Along with Fehr, Pomeroy and Thornycroft, he was one of the most significant New Sculptors, and this is one of his very best works. Toft was very prolific, and his work includes allegorical and Symbolist female nudes, such as Evening, Spring, the Spirit of Contemplation, Hagar, and Fate-Led, this last happily being on permanent display in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. His war memorials include the Royal London Fusiliers memorial in High Holborn, London, and the Streatham memorial, both with standing figures of soldiers, and the more ambitious Oldham War Memorial.

The Boer War memorial stands in Edward VII Avenue, Cathays Park, which is the precinct of Government and public buildings put up when Cardiff became capital of Wales; there is a variety of mostly portrait statues scattered around the area, and the City Hall, the Law Courts, Glamorgan County Hall, the National Museum and University have important architectural sculpture, the City Hall having in addition a collection of statues within which can be visited.

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Also in Cardiff: Glamorgan County Hall sculpture // Cardiff Queen's Building // The Animal Wall

Sculpture in some towns in England


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