Saturday, June 24, 2017

Artillery Row, London

Call the nymphs and the fauns from the woods

Terracotta panels stretch across English buildings of the late-19th century like a riotous procession of ornament slowly drowning in sunset. The sunset of the gods. And sometimes it is gods, or creatures who live with the gods of classical mythology, alongside the more usual architectural decorations, the strapwork, foliage, and sunflowers that also appear with profusion in this kind of ornament. A lot of this sort of stuff is here, running along the walls of Westminster Palace Gardens in London’s Victoria, to delight the eye and puzzle the mind.

My details show a representative sample: naked nymphs and/or goddesses, including a reclining one with a sickle (perhaps a corn or harvest goddess like Ceres), small childlike figures with hirsute legs (fauns?), one attempting to grab at a passing bird. More birds, some of which merge into the scrolls and strap work that weave in and out of the background. It was towards the end of the day when I last passed, and the roseate burnt clay panels were glowing.  
So that afternoon the panels were beautifully effective, as they have been on such afternoons since 1899, when the block was completed to designs by C J Chirney Pawley. The finishing touch is the ceramic lettering above the entrance, just visible here, using a very clear letterform but with the odd concession to the style of the period, such as the little flourish on the A. The decoration is a winning mix, then, of urban and rural. I’m glad that nymphs and fauns sport a few yards from the bustle and traffic of Victoria Street.

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There are more images on Victorian Web, here.


Hels said...

Your very long ornate terracotta friezes are stunning, much like those long ribbons of low relief sculpture that later typified Deco facades. Is it possible that Deco decoration was based, at least to some extent, on late Victorian terracotta friezes?

Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

Comparing this with Balham tube station, it demonstrates what an architect can do with big empty spaces. Also the window panes in little squares, the use of stone and brick, and the arches with little flourishes not only give something to LOOK at but, together with the mythological figures, conjure up architectural and cultural history. If stuck outside this building waiting for something or someone, I could be entertained here, but Balham underground can be exhausted in less than a minute. Since more people are likely to see the OUTSIDE of a building rather than use its function, however functional, inside it, isn't there a case for making the outside as BEAUTIFUL and ENTERTAINING as you can? Just been looking at the lego-block glass-box take-it-or-leave it scheme for the main corner in my town, Pontypridd, after 10 years of a bankrupt empty site, and wondering if anybody will ever try and build anything really BEAUTIFUL ever again... Or perhaps the Powers that Be think my environment just isn't worth it? Local buildings in a mining town that mushroomed like the Yukon show that anything thrown up by an ordinary High Street architect 100 years ago is ALWAYS more attractive and interesting than anything being built now. Terracotta adornments or a concrete substitute could be mass-produced if necessary. Pre-moulded ornament is just as easy to fit in a space as blank wall, and could even be cheaper.

bazza said...

To my shame, I have often walked along Artillery Passage and only given this a quick glance. Artillery Passage took it's name from the time when Henry VIII allowed the then open fields to be used for firearms practice.
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