Secrets behind radical public scultures revealed at Whitchapel Gallery

PUBLISHED: 09:17 12 September 2014 | UPDATED: 09:17 12 September 2014

Lawrence Bradshaw working on clay model of Karl Marx statue, 1955 [photo: Laurence Henderson]

Lawrence Bradshaw working on clay model of Karl Marx statue, 1955 [photo: Laurence Henderson]

Henry Moore Instutute

Stories behind some of London’s most radical public sculptures and why they’ve caused so much controversy are unravelled in a display that draws on the late Henry Moore’s archives.

Alfred Hardiman working on scale model of Haig memorialAlfred Hardiman working on scale model of Haig memorial

An exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery in London’s East End charts changes in public attitudes, political debates and responses surrounding works from the early 20th century onwards.

It uses rarely-seen photographs and correspondence behind radical proposals for public sculptures, some realised, others thwarted.

These include the iconic Karl Marx Memorial created in 1956 by Laurence Bradshaw (1899-1978), which became a pilgrimage site in Highgate Cemetery for international socialist leaders and politicians in the past 50 years—and a target for attacks including a home-made bomb in the 1970s.

Also featured are plans for the imposing equestrian sculpture of First World War Field Marshall Douglas Haig by Alfred Hardiman (1891-1949), one of the last of its kind, which had been widely criticised when it was unveiled in Whitehall in 1928—the horse-mounted commander was seen as outdated in a new age of mechanical warfare.

King George V lays wreath at Haig monument in Whitehall, 1928King George V lays wreath at Haig monument in Whitehall, 1928

Rare photographs of Jacob Epstein (1880-1959) featuring his famous British Medical Association sculptures from 1908 to 1937 are also in the display. The 8ft nude statues symbolising the Ages of Man, installed at the British Medical Association façade in The Strand, were considered by some as offensive when they were unveiled. The sculptures were destroyed in the 1930s.

But attitudes to public sculpture have changed. An investigation in 2004 in artist Neal White’s The Third Campaign reinvigorates Epstein’s unsuccessful battles to protect the works.

The exhibition, Sculptors’ Papers from the Henry Moore Institute Archive, opens at the gallery in Whitechapel High Street, next to Aldgate East Underground station, on September 22 and runs till February.

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