Saturday, April 6, 2019

Cheltenham, Gloucestershire


It was back in 2014 when last I posted about a relief on the building that was once Cheltenham’s Odeon Cinema, and before that its Gaumont cinema: a pair of naked women, tangled in curls of celluloid, who’d been removed from the building’s facade prior to its demolition. Back then, I wrote this about the sculpture:

These relief panels are by Newbury Abbot Trent, a prolific sculptor who produced many war memorials. He was the brother (or, according to some sources, the cousin) of the cinema’s architect, W. E. Trent. The panels are the kind of thing that often adorned cinema buildings of the 1930s, although they were often carved in stone, with a more neutral surface than the shiny metallic finish of these Cheltenham examples. Such sculptures often show female figures – always glamorous, often naked, sometimes, like these, with exaggerated proportions – and were meant to entice us into the magic and seductive world of the cinema, at a time when only a tiny minority had television and cinema-going was a regular weekly recreation for millions. When they were new, shiny, and properly lit, they would have reminded film-goers and passers-by alike of the magical, flickering world inside. It’s a shame they are no longer there.

Several times since, I’ve had the chance to admire this piece of work in its new setting, at ground level, where it can be studied in much more detail and where it is protected by a transparent covering. It’s great to be able to see these ladies from close quarters. I’d been vague about the material when writing about them in their original location, high above the pavement, referring just to their ‘metallic’ surface. For ‘metallic’ read ‘metallic-looking’. They actually are carved out of stone, but stone has been painted to resemble silvery steel or aluminium. At eye level their surface still looks shiny, but also grainier. The details of the carving also look rather coarser – after all, the sculpture was never intended to be seen from so close. It’s still good that it were preserved, though. It’s a bit of Cheltenham history and part of the career of a notable sculptor whose work, so often attached to buildings (and cinemas above all), is frequently vulnerable to the demolition ball or the contractor’s hammer. With their exaggerated figures, sleek hair-dos, and filmic context, the women are very Art Deco and very evocative. Let’s raise a glass (filled with a cocktail of our choice, of course) to their creator.
The sculptures in situ on the front of the cinema (now demolished)


Hels said...

Love it. A person could fly in from Mars and not know what date, country or city that the rocket landed in. But Art Deco wall sculptures are so distinctive, it is very easily identified: low relief, exaggerated figures, sleek hair-dos and filmic context! Being located on Cheltenham’s Odeon Cinema was an added bonus.

franzjosef said...

Glad they preserved them!

Where are they know? I have to go to Cheltenham next Summer (old friend's wedding) and would love to take a look at them. Thanks in advane!

Philip Wilkinson said...

franzjosef: Thank you. They're in St Margaret's Road at the junction with Oxford Passage, at the back of the Cineworld cinema complex. You're looking for the pair of full-length figures on the curving corner of the building.