Lesson sculpture


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Statutory Address:
Junction of Gosset Street and Turin Street, Avebury Estate, Bethnal Green, London, E2


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Statutory Address:
Junction of Gosset Street and Turin Street, Avebury Estate, Bethnal Green, London, E2

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

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


'Lesson', a sculpture group in bronze of 1956-7 by Franta Belsky, installed at the corner of Turin Street and Gosset Street, Bethnal Green in 1959.

Reasons for Designation

Lesson, a sculpture in bronze, of 1956-7 by Franta Belsky, installed at the corner of Turin Street and Gosset Street, Bethnal Green in 1959, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Artistic interest: a well-composed sculpture of high artistic quality, which captures the optimistic spirit of post-war reconstruction; * Historic interest: an example of the London County Council’s pioneering Patronage of the Arts Scheme; * Sculptor: a major work by the émigré artist Franta Belsky.


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. 'Lesson' was produced in 1956–57, with Belsky working from a sketch of a friend teaching her child to walk. After being exhibited at the 1957 LCC open-air exhibition at Holland Park, the LCC’s art advisor Maurice Wheatley suggested that the Council acquire it. At £1,750 a bronze was deemed too expensive, so two cast concrete versions were acquired instead. The version installed at the Avebury housing estate in Bethnal Green had a metal coating to simulate a bronze cast, whereas the second version, located at the former Rosa Bassett School, Wandsworth, is exposed cast concrete. It is thought that the Avebury sculpture was later replaced with a bronze cast for greater permanence. Another bronze cast is located outside Abingdon library, Oxfordshire (unveiled in 1989).

The Bethnal Green sculpture was unveiled in July 1959 by Sir Isaac Hayward, the Leader of the LCC. A bronze maquette was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1959. Of 'Lesson' Belsky explained in 1957 that 'I believe the subject matters, as does the formal aspect. I strove to keep the balance of both. I hope it is clear that the mother is anxious and the child venturesome. I hope that their relationship and the human story is clearly stated – more so for being expressed by emphasized form, pose pattern, rather than a naturalistic transcription. My idea is to distil – but not to dehydrate' (cited in LCC 1957).

Franta Belsky (1921–2000; also known in the Czech Republic as František Belský) arrived in Britain in 1938 from Brno, Czechoslovakia, and studied briefly at the Central School of Arts and Crafts and the Royal College of Art in London before joining a Czech regiment based in Britain. After the Second World War he attended the Prague Academy of Fine Arts under Otakar Španiel, but fled again on the 1948 communist coup d'état, completing his studies at the Royal College of Art. Although as well known as a portraitist as for his public sculpture, it was with such works as 'Lesson' and the later 'Joyride' for the central square of Stevenage (1958-9, Grade II) that Belsky achieved maturity, as he himself observed. Of public art he remarked 'You have to humanise the environment. A housing estate does not only need newspaper kiosks and bus-stop shelters but something that gives it spirit' (Nathan 2000). A corporate commission notable for its imaginative and abstract qualities is the fountain in the courtyard of the Shell Centre, London (1959-63, Grade II).


'Lesson', sculpture group in bronze of 1956-7 by Franta Belsky, installed at the corner of Turin Street and Gosset Street, Bethnal Green in 1959.

This semi-figurative sculpture depicts a mother teaching her infant son to walk. She stands, legs outstretched, learning forward over the child and supporting his outstretched arms. The woman is wearing a dress but barefoot; the child is nude, with his right leg raised in a tentative step. The infant is depicted with rounded, cherub-like features, contrasting with the muscular, angular and more abstract rendering of the mother. The sculpture is mounted on a rough concrete plinth.


Books and journals
Lom, C. ((introduction)), Franta Belsky, sculpture, (1992)
Whittet, G.S., 'G.S. Whittet, ‘Franta Belsky'' in Studio, , Vol. Vol. 154, No. 772., (July 1957), .
D. Nathan 2000 Franta Belsky obituary, the Guardian , accessed 5 November 2015 from http://www.theguardian.com/news/2000/jul/06/guardianobituaries1
E. Harwood, ‘LCC Sculpture Exhibitions’, report of November 2015, Historic England London Region Historians’ Files, Post-war Steering Group files.
Henry Moore Institute Archive, Leeds, reference 2001.94/F/2
London County Council, Sculpture 1850 and 1950, LCC, 1957, unpaginated.


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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