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Public Art (Sculpture) 1945-1985

41 public sculptures created in the post-war period 1945 to 1985 have recently been listed. This work was part of our strategic project to promote the enjoyment and protection of fixed sculptural artworks in public spaces.

A post-war donkey sculpture.
Donkey sculpture by Willi Soukop, Harlow, 1955. Listed at Grade II. NHLE List Entry Number: 1431399 © Historic England

What post-war sculptures did we look at?

After extensive research we assessed a total of 47, resulting in the addition of 41 post-war public sculptures to the List (officially known as the National Heritage List for England). The 41 newly listed pieces capture the mood of post-war public feeling. They depict a range of themes from the celebration of industry in northern England such as mining and wool, to the importance of family, play and even a commemoration to children killed in the Blitz.

These sculptures, most listed at Grade II and some Grade II*, were designed to bring our public spaces back to life after the Second World War as England began to repair its shattered towns and cities. The art was created for everyone, to humanise and enrich our streets, housing estates, work places, shopping centres, explanding universities and schools.

In addition to the 41 that we listed as part of the project, we have also recently listed the Octo Sculpture, Milton Keynes.

Heritage Minister, Tracey Crouch said: “It is only right that these fantastic pieces are listed. Not only are they magnificent sculptures but they are also an important part of our history, capturing the mood of Britain after WWII.”

Sculpture mounted on a reflecting pool.
Octo sculpture and reflecting pool, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, 1979-80 by Wendy Taylor. Listed at Grade II. NHLE List Entry Number: 1432576 © Historic England

What sculptures are now listed?

Memorial sculpture
Memorial sculpture group 'to the memory of prisoners of war and victims of concentration camps 1914-1945', Gladstone Park, Dollis Hill, London, 1967-69 by Fred Kormis. Listed at Grade II. NHLE List Entry Number: 1431369 © Historic England

What sculptures were not listed?

  • Clarion, London (1981 by Phillip King)
  • Construction (Crucifixion), Winchester, Hampshire (1966-67 by Barbara Hepworth)
  • East Sussex County Hall sculptural relief, Lewes, East Sussex (1968 by William Mitchell)
  • Family of Man, Suffolk (1968 by William Mitchell)
  • San Marco Horse, Jesus College, Cambridge (1983 by Barry Flanagan)

In addition, we were asked to clarify the listing status of Epidauros II cast by Dame Barbara Hepworth. The work was sited on the Malakoff terrace, overlooking St Ives, in 1973 by Hepworth and placed on loan to St Ives Borough Council. The loan has been extended by the Hepworth Estate to the Council since Hepworth's death in 1975. Based on our advice, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport decided to remove the sculpture from the National Heritage List for England. Further details are contained in a statement we have issued on the Delisting of Epidauros II. 

Dr Sophie Bowness, on behalf of the Hepworth Estate, said: “We are absolutely committed to keeping ‘Epidauros’ in the beautiful site overlooking St Ives that Hepworth chose for it in 1973. De-listing will enable us to offer the sculpture to the nation through the Acceptance in Lieu system. If accepted, 'Epidauros' would remain in perpetuity in this historic site."

Other outcomes

Roger Bowdler, Director of Listing at Historic England said: “These sculptures were commissioned and created for everybody and have become a precious national collection of art which we can all share. They enrich our lives, bring art to everyone and deserve celebration. We have worked with the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association, Tate, and the Twentieth Century Society throughout this project to ensure our most special public art is protected and continues to enhance our public spaces.”

Sculptures on loan

We discovered through the consultation process for this project that a small number of public sculptures under assessment were on loan. This introduced the question of whether a loaned sculpture can be listed. The listability of a sculpture rests primarily on whether it constitutes a building in law.

The approach to whether a sculpture constitutes a building or remains a chattel should be first to consider whether it is on loan, and then to examine its degree of annexation to the land as well as the purpose behind why the sculpture was placed in that location.  Where a sculpture is loaned for a particular exhibition or for a particular period (even a very long one) it will almost certainly remain a chattel and is therefore incapable of being listed. There are some areas where further consideration is required, such as if a sculpture is on indefinite loan or if it appears to be placed on a permanent basis (for example, integrated into the design of a building) but these will be considered on a case by case basis.

A recommendation not to list does not necessarily mean that the sculpture lacks intrinsic interest. If in the future the ownership situation changes and the sculpture becomes more settled, then it could be reassessed for listing.

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