'London Pride' sculpture, a c1987 bronze cast of a 1950-51 plaster sculpture by Frank Dobson, on a low slate platform with inscription by David Kindersley. The sculpture is sited on Queen’s Walk on the South Bank, adjacent to the National Theatre.
Reasons for Designation
REASONS FOR DESIGNATION
The sculpture 'London Pride' by Frank Dobson, cast in bronze in 1987 from a plaster cast of 1950-51, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Artistic interest: the voluptuous classicism of this sculpture group has an emotional directness that translates well to the public realm;
* Historic association: one of few sculptures originally commissioned for the 1951 Festival of Britain, a pivotal moment in the patronage of C20 public art which influenced the London County Council’s later Patronage of the Arts scheme;
* Sculptor: a major late work of this acclaimed C20 sculptor;
* Group value: with the Grade II* listed National Theatre.
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.
The sculptor Frank Dobson (1886–1963) was chosen by the Festival Design Group (led by Hugh Casson and Misha Black) with the assistance of the Arts Council to create a sculpture for the 1951 Festival of Britain. Dobson decided to develop a work-in-progress on the theme of Leisure. He developed the full-scale clay models at the studios of the Royal College of Art, London assisted by his students. The budget did not run to bronze, so the models were then cast in plaster by R Davies, the RCA’s caster, and finished in gun-metal. The piece was originally erected at the Belvedere Road entrance to the Royal Festival Hall, the only permanent element of the Festival.
The arts correspondent for The Times wrote 'this is one of Mr Dobson’s most impressive works and particularly remarkable because he seems in this to have worked out a much more effective, natural, and unforced stylisation than was used in most of his earlier works of monumental proportions' (cited in Cavanagh 2007, pg. 69). At the end of the Festival the sculptures remained in storage until 1986 when, at the behest of Dobson’s widow, the Arts Council arranged for them to be re-cast in bronze for a permanent public siting. The casting was done by the Morris Singer Foundry and funded by the Henry Moore Foundation and Lynton Property & Reversionary PLC. The sculptures were unveiled in September 1987 on a new slate platform inscribed by David Kindersley.
At the time of the commission the 63-year old Dobson was Head of Sculpture at the Royal College of Art. Born in London, the son of a commercial artist, Dobson attended evening classes at the Hastings School of Art, becoming an apprentice of the artist-sculptor Sir William Reynolds-Stephens. Dobson studied painting at the South London School of Technical Art in Kennington (now the City and Guilds of London Art School), but it was only around 1914 that he turned from painting to sculpture, inspired by Roger Fry’s exhibition on Édouard Manet and the Post-Impressionists in 1910-11 and an exhibition of African and Oceanic tribal art in 1913-14. In this he joined his contemporaries Jacob Epstein and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, and like them he discovered the importance of direct carving rather than modelling in clay or plaster for casting. Dobson served in the Artist’s Rifles during the First World War during a period where Cubism and Vorticism influenced his work.
Cubist influences gave way to a voluptuous classicism; 'I like my gals round and full', he admitted in a lecture to the Royal Society of Arts in 1951 (Jason and Thompson-Pharoah, 1994, pg. 35). His breakthrough came when he was invited to exhibit in the Group X show organised in 1920 by Wyndham Lewis. Dobson was thrust into the fore of the London art world, his work admired for its truth to materials, simple forms and for bridging the gap between traditionalism and abstraction very much in the manner of Aristide Maillol. Inter-war commissions included relief work at St Olaf House, Southwark (1931, architect H S Goodhard-Rendel, Grade II*) and a bronze memorial roundel of Sir John Gunn Mowat at Cleckheaton Library, West Yorkshire (1929-30, architect J C Castle, listed at Grade II). A major retrospective was held in Bristol in 1940, and Dobson was professor at the RCA from 1946 to 1953. His post-war work tends to be modelled rather than directly sculpted and includes 'London Pride' (1951), 'Woman With Fish', Northampton Delapre Gardens (1951, Grade II) and the zodiac clock on the north elevation of Bracken House, City of London (architect Albert Richardson, listed at Grade II*).
London Pride sculpture, c1987 bronze cast of 1950-51 plaster sculpture by Frank Dobson, on low slate platform with inscription by David Kindersley. The sculpture is sited on Queen’s Walk on the South Bank, adjacent to the National Theatre.
The sculpture is 2.14m in height and comprises two life size female nudes, seated on a draped block with an empty bowl resting on the right hand figure’s lap. Dobson’s intention is that it would be planted with Saxifraga urbium (London Pride), hence the punning title of the piece. The rough modelling is a result of Dobson’s working technique of building up the form by applying and moulding small pieces of clay. The piece is signed in the bottom left corner of the plinth. The bronze rests on a low slate platform, with the following inscription, carved by David Kindersley: ‘LONDON PRIDE / FRANK DOBSON CBE RA / 1886–1963 / Commissioned for / THE FESTIVAL OF BRITAIN 1951 / GIVEN BY MARY DOBSON 1987 / AND PLACED ON THE SOUTH BANK / Assisted generously by Lynton Property & Revisionary Plc and / The Henry Moore Foundation / ARTS COUNCIL OF GREAT BRITAIN’.