Thursday, February 27, 2014

Mortimer Street, London

Sculptural practice

I know the area north of Oxford Street quite well, especially the bit around Portland Place, home to the RIBA and its marvellous architectural library, which I use from time to time. But I don't recall walking along this part of Mortimer Street before, or seeing number 82, a striking facade that made my jaw drop. This frontage of the very late 19th century features an artful collection of stone pediments and tall windows, with the main features picked out in stone against a background of red brick. What took my breath away, of course, were the two figures that support the upper pediment. They're cousins of the hundreds of straining figures – usually male, and usually known as Atlantes – that support lintels and arches on countless buildings in Europe. Part of the repertoire of baroque architecture, they're less common in England than in Italy or Central Europe. But here they are, doing sterling work in the middle of London. 
Figures like these are generally male. Female supporting figures more usually take the form of caryatids, which stand upright and are bereft of arms – their heads do the holding up. Here, though, we have one seated male and one similarly seated female, and a fetching pair they make. Their bodies, drapery and faces are well carved and I particularly like the way they are placed, sitting on the curving lower pediment and holding up the one above. Back home, looking the building up, I wasn't surprised to find that it was designed by Beresford Pite, a notable architect with a strong London practice, who loved to include carvings on his buildings. Long-standing readers of this blog may remember him from a post of another London building, also richly carved, that I did a long while back. On today's facade, the sculptures were done by Thomas Tyrell who I think taught at Lambeth School of Art.

This building was originally a consulting room for an anaesthetist and coincidentally, the other building by Pite that I posted had a medical connection too. As so often when I notice architectural sculpture in London, I find that Chris Partridge and his excellent Ornamental Passions blog has got there first. Chris Partridge speculates that the figures represent waking – the upward-looking male – and sleeping – the female who pulls the hood or veil over her head. Such subjects would certainly be appropriate for the occupant of the building. Whatever their intended subjects, though, I'm grateful to have been alerted to their presence.


James Russell said...

London's a dangerous city to walk around - too many fabulous architectural details to distract from the dangers of traffic, etc. One day I'm sure I'll fall down a big hole and never be seen again!

Philip Wilkinson said...

James: Yes, we'll all be falling down holes, or colliding with people frantically sending text messages as they stroll down the street. It's worth it though, when one comes across such wonders.

Anonymous said...

Caryatids - memories of Cheltenham! See my email Philip!

Philip Wilkinson said...

Anon: Indeed! I'll reply soon.

bazza said...

Taking your advice a few years ago to 'look up' at architecture I have since discovered many wonderful things. One might have hurried past this gem and missed it altogether!
CLICK HERE for Bazza’s Blog ‘To Discover Ice’