Chris Pensa of Love Art London. All photography by Amelia Gregory.
When members only art club Love Art London invited me to join them on a sculpture art walk through Hyde Park I jumped at the chance. I love a guided stroll, especially on a balmy summer evening. But dressing up straight from work? Nice idea, but unlikely for most despite the lure of a fiver off the ticket price if you dressed up as a Victorian. Instead we all (briefly) donned fake stick-on moustaches – that universal symbol of Victoriana – and marvelled at the outrageous attire of the goth girl from Florida.
Gathered beneath the Wellington Monument we were given a brief history of Hyde Park, romping from visions of Henry VII shooting deer through to the biggest event of recent times, Live Aid. We were then introduced to our two knowledgeable tour leaders, a pair of ladies studying for PhDs at the Courtauld Institute. Katie Faulkner led the first group off whilst we followed Ayla Lepine, an expert in Revivalist Gothic Architecture and a Pugin aficionado.
Katie Faulkner and Ayla Lepine from the Courtauld Institute of Art.
The Wellington Monument is a nude statue of Achilles, made from melted canons and commissioned of sculptor Richard Westmacott by some aristocratic ladies as a symbol of Empire. But it didn’t quite turn out as they expected, and thoroughly embarrassed by his exposed dangly bits they insisted on a fig leaf to protect his modesty.
Achilles by Faye West.
A bit of a walk westwards soon brought us right out of the park and across the road to our next statue – created in the 1950s by Jacob Epstein as his swansong, Pan, or the Rites of Spring, shows a joyous family accompanied by a dog, rushing away from the city smog towards the parkland to symbolise progress and community. It was built in front of an unprepossessing 50s office block and was largely ignored. At present it is girdled with a construction company‘s wire fencing as a new prestigious address, One Hyde Park rises behind it. We learnt that there is some confusion over the fact that this isn’t actually a real postal address, thus annoying the extremely rich owners of these new condominiums. One can only hope they at least appreciate this fabulous work of art in their front drive.
The Jacob Epstein statue in front of One Hyde Park.
Jacob Epstein Rush of Green by Gareth A Hopkins. This sculpture seems to have numerous names.
A quick jaunt back towards the Serpentine – accompanied by a bit of impromptu Owl and the Pussycat poetry – brought us to the newest statue in Hyde Park, Isis by Simon Gudgeon. Erected only last year the smooth statue of a bird takes its name from the goddess of nature and sales of commemorative plaques and miniature versions of the sculpture will raise money for a wildlife centre.
Reading the Owl and the Pussycat.
Isis by Jenny Robins.
Crossing the road past the Serpentine Gallery we came to the next imposing sculpture. GF Watts was also a painter and brought his rough brush strokes to the figure of Physical Energy – a muscled man and horse charging towards the statue of Albert in the distance. It was made during a time when ideas and places were things to be conquered and took inspiration from multiple ancient warriors including Mohammed, Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan.
Physical Energy by Octavi Navarro.
Our next visit was to Brampton’s Peter Pan standing just inside Kensington Gardens, a popular statue that caused a lot of controversy when it was first built. Even as the story of Peter Pan held the nation in its grasp, how was an author granted such a fabulous spot? We can wonder this now as they did back at the turn of the last century… Barrie claimed that he created to give pleasure, and from the gasps of excitement as we surrounded Peter Pan and stroked the worn rabbit ears like excited tourists, he succeeded.
Peter Pan Statue by Vicky Yates.
An undoubted highlight of the walk was a mini rendition of a scene from Peter Pan given by two wandering actors.
Then it was onward to catch up with the other half of our group under the daunting glittery gold structure of the Albert Memorial, built by George Gilbert Scott and finished in 1872, over ten years after Prince Albert died and 20 years after the Great Exhibition it commemorated. As we chomped on handmade iced moustache biscuits we learnt that by the time it was completed the majority of tasteful Victorians considered this Gothic wonder a gaudy affair, and for 80 years, up until recent times, Albert ended up covered in black paint.
The Albert Memorial by Lisa Stannard.
Two hours after we started it was time for the walkers to adjourn to a nearby pub. Learning obscure facts to impress friends and chatting with some friendly art lovers as we wandered through the leafy environs of Hyde Park was a delightful way to spend an evening.
Love Art London – The art scene, exclusively tailored – is the brain child of Chris Pensa, who left Sothebys to create an accessible club for people who love art. For a very reasonable fixed membership fee you get to attend three events every month, from glass blowing to twilight tours of grand houses. And I can’t help thinking… if one were single… this could be an even better use of your money than joining an online dating service. Don’t the profiles always say “I love to travel, watch films, and go to art galleries” anyway? *ponders*
Achilles, Albert Memorial, Art Membership Club, Ayla Lepine, Brampton, Chris Pensa, courtauld institute, Ernesto Neto, Faye West, Gareth A Hopkins, George Gilbert Scott, GF Watts, gothic, Hayward Gallery, Hyde Park, Hyde Park Sculptures, Isis, Jacob Epstein, Jenny Robins, Katie Faulkner, Lisa Stannard, Love Art London, Octavi Navarro, One Hyde Park, Online Dating, Peter Pan, Physical Energy, Pugin, sculpture, Simon Gudgeon, Vicky Yates, Victorian, Wellington Monument, Westmacott
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