Belgrave Square has a total of five modern statues, a rare chance to see a collection of modern figural work. The Square, together with Eaton Square, forms the centre of Cubitt's huge development on behalf of Earl Grosvenor in the 1820s, and is a complete and unspoilt example of his work.
First the sculpture. Four of the five bronze statues are around or in the central fenced square, and are by foreign sculptors. The statue of Simon Bolivar is signed 'DAINI', Caracas Venezuela, 1973. A modern treatment, formal, with over-sized chest, and little detail or character. Much better is the Christopher Columbus, a gift from Spain, left in rough textured bronze. The Don Jose de San Martin, 'founder of Argentine independence and gave freedom to Chile and Peru', is by Juan Carlos Ferraro 1993, the gift of the British community in Argentina, 1994. A stiff proud figure in rough bronze, with sketched in uniform. All these three at corners of the square.
In the actual square is Homage to Leonardo, the Vitruvian Man, by Italian sculptor Enzo Plazzotta (1921-81), completed by his assistant Mark Holloway in 1982, and sponsored by Mr and Mrs John M Harbert III, of Birmingham, Alabama. It shows the very recognisable 8-limbed figure in a bronze circle. A serious work.
Finally, at the corner of Wilton Crescent is Sir Robert Grosvenor himself, with a Ruskin quote: 'When we build let us think we build for ever.' A lively pose, two dogs, and good texture, though some conventionality in treatment of the hair. The sculptor was Jonathan Wylder, and the date is 1998. The whole ensemble is an encouraging sign of the quality of unmannered figural work that still goes on in modern times.
The architecture, as noted above, is by Basevi working for Thomas Cubitt, and is complete around the Square. Four great ranges of neo-Classical terraces in brick with stucco, with many Corinthian pillars, and projecting centres as an opportunity for decoration. Jugs on top, figures in high relief of cherubs, women and angels with shields high up, and reclining draped girls at second floor level. The detached mansions at the corners were the work of other architects.
The Grosvenor family was descended from the chief hunter to Dukes of Normandy before the Conquest, and became immensely rich from mines in the north, and later as landlords. The Belgravia area had been a marshy one, with a topsoil of clay, which Cubitt removed, made bricks from, and so exposed the underlying gravel on which to build. 'Belgrave' was a lesser title of Earl Grosvenor, and so the Square was named. There are lots of embassies there now - the earliest one in the Square was the Austrian one in the 19th Century, but there is at least one artistic connection of great interest to these pages: Chantrey, the sculptor, had a house (actually two of them knocked together) at the corner of Eccleston Street.
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