Father Courage


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Statutory Address:
University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 7NZ


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Statutory Address:
University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 7NZ

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Canterbury (District Authority)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:


Public sculpture (including plinth) entitled 'Father Courage', 1960, by F E McWilliam.

Reasons for Designation

Father Courage by F E McWilliam, 1960, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Artistic interest: a powerful sculpture of high artistic and aesthetic quality; * Historic interest: as a piece by a nationally important C20 artist, given to a new university by a major charitable organisation.


The period after 1945 saw a shift from commemorative sculpture and architectural enrichment to the idea of public sculpture as a primarily aesthetic contribution to the public realm. Sculpture was commissioned for new housing, schools, universities and civic set pieces, with the counties of Hertfordshire, London and Leicestershire leading the way in public patronage. Thus public sculpture could be an emblem of civic renewal and social progress. By the late C20 however, patronage was more diverse and included corporate commissions and Arts Council-funded community art. The ideology of enhancing the public realm through art continued, but with divergent means and motivation.

Visual languages ranged from the abstraction of Victor Pasmore and Phillip King to the figurative approach of Elisabeth Frink and Peter Laszlo Peri, via those such as Lynn Chadwick and Barbara Hepworth who bridged the abstract/representational divide. The post-war decades are characterised by the exploitation of new – often industrial – materials and techniques, including new welding and casting techniques, plastics and concrete, while kinetic sculpture and ‘ready mades’ (using found objects) demonstrate an interest in composite forms.

Father Courage is a work by the Northern Irish sculptor, Frederick Edward McWilliam (1902-92). McWilliam trained at the Belfast School of Art and the Slade School of Fine Art, London, originally studying painting before turning to sculpture in the early 1930s. Initially influenced by primitive art, particularly African sculpture, his work became increasingly Surrealist. After spending the Second World War in service, he returned to London to teach at Chelsea School of Art and the Slade School, and resumed working in a wide variety of media, including terracotta, stone, wood and bronze. His subject matter was primarily figurative, but his style was diverse, with varying levels of abstraction, formal treatment and surface finish; from smooth-skinned body fragments, to broken-surfaced, attenuated figures, to hieratic symbolic forms. His predisposition was to work in series, fully exploring a theme before a radical change in subject and style. McWilliam worked at both large and small scales, and completed a number of public commissions.

Father Courage, 1960, was acquired for the University of Kent’s Canterbury campus with the aid of funds from the Gulbenkian Foundation, to be sited in the vicinity of the Gulbenkian Theatre which it had also funded. The university was founded in 1965 and the sculpture erected in 1969. It was temporarily put into storage after the nearby Cornwallis Building collapsed in 1974, and was subsequently re-erected on its current nearby site. The title of the work relates to Mother Courage, a play by Bertolt Brecht which was a passionate denunciation of the horrors of war, and had become familiar to British audiences in the 1950s. Another name for the piece, as given on its plinth, is 'Baal' - a name associated with an ancient Middle Eastern deity, but also having different connotations within different religious traditions.

The piece is reflective of certain themes explored by a number of artists in what was a period of political, social and ideological tumult. In particular, the interest in primitive art, and the rejection of traditional academic standards in favour of an exploration of skills and techniques to convey meaning. The piece is at once totemic, contemplative and perhaps slightly menacing: a powerful example of the existential facet of McWilliam’s oeuvre.


Father Courage, 1960, by F E McWilliam is situated outside the Gulbenkian Theatre, on the University of Kent's Canterbury campus.

The sculpture is bronze, approximately two metres tall and stands on a square concrete plinth. It has the quality of a primitive totem, or idol, taking the form of a seated asexual figure. The body is attenuated, with sloping shoulders, and the limbs are not expressed other than the thighs and knees which are suggested through the drape of a robe or gown. On a slender neck is an oversized wedge-like head, largely featureless but with round bulging eyes. The surface of the bronze is rough; a finish achieved through pushing objects into the clay from which the piece was modelled before being cast.

A small plaque on the plinth reads:

'FATHER COURAGE' OR 'BAAL' 1960 / F.E. McWILLIAM C.B.E., A.R.A. / (1909 - 1992)


A Dictionary of Modern Contemporary Art (2 ed). Entry for F E McWilliam, accessed 9 August 2015 from www.oxfordreference.com
The Tate, artist biography: F E McWilliam, accessed 13 October 1015 from http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/fe-mcwilliam-1613


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.


The listed building is shown coloured blue on the attached map. Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’), structures attached to or within the curtilage of the listed building (save those coloured blue on the map) are not to be treated as part of the listed building for the purposes of the Act.

End of official listing

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