Gorilla sculpture


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Statutory Address:
Adjacent to Lower Lake, Crystal Palace Park, London, SE20 8DS


Ordnance survey map of Gorilla sculpture
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Statutory Address:
Adjacent to Lower Lake, Crystal Palace Park, London, SE20 8DS

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

Greater London Authority
Bromley (London Borough)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:


'Gorilla', sculpture of 1961 by David Wynne, situated in the grounds of Crystal Palace Park.

Reasons for Designation

'Gorilla', a marble sculpture of 1961 by David Wynne, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Artistic interest: a sculpture of high artistic quality, powerfully composed and skilfully detailed in Belgian marble, and representative of the continuity of the figurative tradition in the post-war period; * Historic interest: as a piece commissioned from the celebrated artist David Wynne by London County Council, a significant patron of C20 public art; * Group value: with Crystal Palace Park, designated at Grade II* on the Register of Parks and Gardens.


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 and the new towns 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.

In 1956, the London County Council (LCC) launched a Patronage of the Arts scheme, setting aside an annual budget of £20,000 for commissioning and acquiring works with the advice of the Arts Council. Over the following decade some 50 works were sited in housing estates, schools and other public places. In 1959 the LCC commissioned David Wynne to carve a large animal sculpture for a site to be determined at a later late. Wynne was at that time preoccupied with studying the characteristic behaviour and movements of animals, spending many weeks sketching at London Zoo. He decided that Guy, a western lowland gorilla and the star attraction at London Zoo, would make a suitable subject. From his arrival in 1947 Guy became something of a celebrity at London Zoo, appearing on children’s television and natural history programmes. The LCC in July 1962 recommended Wynne’s piece for the Children's Zoo at Crystal Palace.

David Wynne (1926–2014) was a British sculptor working within the figurative tradition and noted for his portraiture and animal sculptures. After serving in the Royal Navy, Wynne read Zoology at Cambridge University, where he was encouraged by the historian GM Trevelyan and the sculptor Jacob Epstein, going on to study briefly with the sculptor Georg Ehrlich. Wynne exhibited at the Leicester Galleries in 1955 but it was a 1957 bust of Thomas Beecham and Gorilla which brought widespread recognition and established his career. The popularity of his work ran parallel to an ambivalent relationship with the art establishment; the catalogue to the major 1981 Whitechapel Gallery exhibition on British sculpture remarked that Wynne 'stands to sculpture much as Colonel Seifert to London’s architecture' (Nairne & Serota 1981, pg. 187). His later work was less monumental and included several commissions for the royal family, sacred sculptures and work for corporate patrons. Wynne’s 'River God Tyne' and 'Swans in Flight' was commissioned for Newcastle Civic Centre (architect GW Kenyon, Grade II*) and examples of his bronze sculptures are also sited in the grounds of Tresco Abbey, Isles of Scilly (Grade I on the Register of Parks and Gardens) and Cadogan Place, Knightsbridge (Grade II on the Register of Parks and Gardens).


'Gorilla', a sculpture of 1961 by David Wynne, situated in the grounds of Crystal Palace Park.

The sculpture is of polished black Belgian fossil marble, standing approximately 120cm high on a marble base and roughly-tooled granite plinth. The title of the work is carved into the plinth. This figurative sculpture is based on Guy the gorilla, a popular attraction at London Zoo. The animal is depicted resting powerfully on all fours; muscular limbs extending down to flexed knuckles frame a four-square form. Wynne intended that the sculpture convey ‘all his feelings of awe and terror and love for this mighty beast’ while being sufficiently robust for children to climb on (Boase ed 1968, pg. 73). The plinth is inscribed ‘GORILLA’ and the marble base ‘DAVID WYNNE 1961’.


Books and journals
Boase et al, T.R., The Sculpture of David Wynne 1949-1967, (1968), p.73
Strachan, W G, Open Air Sculpture in Britain: a Comprehensive Guide, (1984), pp.46-47
Daily Telegraph, David Wynne - obituary, accessed 5 November 2015 from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/11085191/David-Wynne-obituary.html
Public Monuments and Sculpture Association, National Recording Project: Gorilla, accessed 5 November 2015 from http://pmsa.org.uk/pmsa-database/3114/
E. Harwood, ‘LCC Sculpture Exhibitions’, report of November 2015, Historic England London Region Historians’ Files, Post-war Steering Group files.


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 structure 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 structure (save those coloured blue on the map) are not to be treated as part of the listed structure for the purposes of the Act.

End of official listing

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