Arnrid Johnston Obelisk

Overview

Heritage Category: Listed Building

Grade: II

List Entry Number: 1459927

Date first listed: 22-Oct-2018

Statutory Address: Walden House, Pimlico Road, London, SW1W 8LH

Map

Ordnance survey map of Arnrid Johnston Obelisk
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Location

Statutory Address: Walden House, Pimlico Road, London, SW1W 8LH

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

County: Greater London Authority

District: City of Westminster (London Borough)

Parish: Non Civil Parish

National Grid Reference: TQ2848278536

Summary

Portland Stone obelisk featuring relief carvings of children playing, Arnrid Johnston, of about 1930.

Reasons for Designation

The Arnrid Johnston Obelisk at Walden House, of about 1930, is listed for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* for the finely composed relief carvings of children at play to the three faces of the obelisk, with stylised figures expressively arranged and the sculptural work, despite its weathering, evidently well executed; * as the most significant surviving sculptural work by Arnid Johnston, a renowned artist of the mid-C20; initially associated with the influential ‘English Independents’ group of sculptors and later a prominent illustrator and designer.

Historic interest:

* as a significant and celebrated piece of site-specific civic art of the inter-war period, commissioned by the Duke of Westminster for the playground courtyard of a council housing block reserved for families with young children.

History

The Obelisk at Walden House was designed and carved by Arnrid Johnston (1895-1972) and presented by the Duke of Westminster to the City of Westminster in about 1930. Johnston was a prolific sculptor and illustrator of the early to mid-C20. Born in Uddevalla, Sweden, she later moved to London and studied at the Slade (1914-1921) under the influential sculptor, James Havard Thomas (1854-1921). Over the course of her career, Johnston produced a number of notable sculptural works, carved both in relief and in the round, working with wood and stone. Her work was featured at exhibitions with other contemporary artists concerned with ‘direct carving’, referred to in the period as the ‘English Independents’. Key exhibitions at which Johnston’s work was shown included ‘Living British Artists’ at Leeds City Art Gallery and the London Group’s 1930 ‘Open-Air Sculpture’ exhibition at Selfridges, where her work 'In Pasture' (green serpentine) was displayed alongside works of leading artists of the period including Barbara Hepworth, John Skeaping and Henry Moore. The work for Walden House, simply entitled ‘Obelisk’, was regarded by the critic and author Kineton Parkes as her most important sculptural work, which he notes to have been carved over a period of four years.

Into the 1930s, Johnston moved into illustration and design work, producing posters for the Underground Group and London Transport (of which a collection are held at the London Transport Museum). Between the early 1930s and early 1950s Johnston also wrote and/or illustrated more than twenty books, which mainly concerned animals; these noted for being meticulously researched and drawn. Significant titles included 'Animal Families', Country Life, 1939, 'Animals We Use', Methuen, 1948, and 'Fables From Aesop and Others', Transatlantic Arts, 1944. In later years her eyesight deteriorated which cut short her illustration work. In her obituary H J Blackham characterised her work as being ‘always lively and expressive as well as carefully observed’.

In contrast to other prominent sculptural works by Johnston, the Obelisk was specifically designed for Walden House (not listed). The building, an early council housing block which was built in 1924 to the designs of Messrs Joseph for the City of Westminster, was built on land given over by the Duke of Westminster; this appears to be referred to in the weathered inscription on the plinth of the obelisk. The block was formally opened on 19 May 1924 and named after Alderman Sir Robert Walden, who had helped negotiate the donation of the land. The 40 flats were reserved for families with children living at home, apparently at the request of the Grosvenor Estate. Consequently, the rear courtyard, which was to serve as a playground, was included in the scheme and Johnstone’s Obelisk was commissioned as its centrepiece. The sculpture remains within the courtyard, apparently in its original position. Whilst the figures to each of the three faces remain, it is clear the sculptural work has suffered from weathering over more than 80 years, with the original crispness of Johnston’s relief carving now softened and the carved inscription to the north-east face of the plinth only partially legible.

Details

Obelisk sculpture, of about 1930, designed and carved by Arnrid Johnston.

MATERIALS: Portland stone with stock brick structure to the platform.

PLAN: circular base with a three-sided plinth.

DESCRIPTION: truncated, flat-headed obelisk with relief carving to its three faces, set upon a stepped, tow-tier platform and a chamfered plinth. Each of the three carved sections feature scenes of children playing; the north-west face with a boy carrying a toy sailing boat with a dog at his feet and the southern face a pair of girls hoop rolling. The north-east face of the obelisk depicts two girls on rocking horses and beneath, carved onto the plinth, is a weathered inscription (now only partially legible) which appears to commemorate the granting of the land for Walden House to the City of Westminster by the Grosvenor Estate. A further inscription at the top of the obelisk can be seen, but is now mostly illegible. At the foot of the plinth, to each of the three corners, are stylised animal figures, carved in the round.

Sources

Books and journals
Parkes, K, The Art of Carved Sculpture, Vol. I: Western Europe, America and Japan, (1932), 87, 125
Fraser, I, 'The 'English Independents': Some Twentieth Century Women Carvers' in Sculpture Journal, , Vol. 23.3, (2014), -378
Websites
'Miss Arnrid Banniza Johnston', Mapping the Practice and Profession of Sculpture in Britain and Ireland 1851-1951, University of Glasgow History of Art and HATII, online database 2011, accessed 5 September 2018 from https://sculpture.gla.ac.uk/view/person.php?id=msib2_1207091620
Other
Arnrid Johnston (obituary), The Times (London), 13 July 1972, p18

End of official listing