1950s Sculpture ‘The Sunbathers’ at London Waterloo Station
A remarkable piece of lost public art from the 1950s, Peter Laszlo Peri's Festival of Britain sculpture ‘The Sunbathers’, is on public display at London Waterloo station. The sculpture was restored and returned to public view following a successful crowdfunding campaign by Historic England.
The story so far
Peter Laszlo Peri created 'The Sunbathers' for the Festival of Britain in 1951, but it was thought to be lost forever after a number of the temporary exhibition's sculptures were destroyed.
In 2016 – after a call out by Historic England for information on missing public art – a couple visiting Out There: Our Post-War Public Art recognised the sculpture from photographs and it was rediscovered in the garden of Clarendon Hotel in Blackheath, London.
In April 2017 we set out to raise £15,000 to restore it for public display. Amazingly, this target was reached in just five days. With the additional £7,326 raised (inclusive of Gift Aid donations), we restored the sculpture and returned it to display at the Royal Festival Hall, just a stone’s throw from where the figures originally greeted festival visitors in 1951. After three years greeting visitors at Southbank, in August 2020 'The Sunbathers' were returned to Waterloo Station, nearly 70 years after they were last seen here.
A symbol of post-war hope
Hungarian-born Peter Laszlo Peri was renowned for his constructivist artworks in the 1920s. An émigré to England in 1933 from Nazi-occupied Germany, Peri worked more figuratively after the war and modelled 'The Sunbathers' in situ at the Festival site from ‘Pericrete’, a unique material he invented as a cheaper alternative to bronze.
Created in the heart of London communities, appearing on housing and schools as well as on the Festival of Britain site, Peri’s public sculptures became symbols of post-war hope for a battered and bruised nation.
Dylan Thomas was inspired by 'The Sunbathers' on his visit to the Festival, writing: "the linked terra-cotta man and woman fly-defying gravity and elegantly hurrying up a W.C. wall."
The Sunbathers is kindly loaned by The O’Donnell Family and Clarendon Hotel, Blackheath.
Historic England would like to thank Sarah Gaventa, Southbank Centre and Network Rail, and all those who helped us restore The Sunbathers through our crowdfunding campaign. Special thanks are due to donors John Cooze, Alan and Jane Foale and Mark Hannam, as well as Crowdfund for Heritage, a National Lottery Heritage Fund initiative supported by Nesta and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).