The famous statue of Eros in Piccadilly Circus is one of the symbols of London. It is also known as the Shaftesbury Monument, having been erected as a memorial to the philanthropist Lord Shaftesbury. The actual figure rises above a fountain, which is made in bronze, but Eros is made out of aluminium, at that time a rare and novel material. The sculptor was Alfred Gilbert RA, and he used the fountain idea as an excuse for incorporating a variety of fishes and crustaceous life in the design. The fountain was unveiled in 1893, and was warmly described by the Magazine of Art as
'a striking contrast to the dull ugliness of the generality of our street sculpture, ... a work which, while beautifying one of our hitherto desolate open spaces, should do much towards the elevation of public taste in the direction of decorative sculpture, and serve freedom for the metropolis from any further additions of the old order of monumental monstrosities.'
Unfortunately, the statue had already been vandalised by August of the same year, and the spot had been 'permitted to be used as a playground by dirty and squalid children'. Since then it has undergone various tribulations, including in 1994 damage by a drunken visitor climbing on it and bending the figure. Since then, it was renovated and put back, as one of the most familiar sculptural emblems of London.
The statue, and the decorations on the base of the fountain, are characteristic of Gilbert's work, in a New Sculpture, art nouveau style. Note particularly among the decoration, the heads and half-figures of children or cherubs, and these are also similar to other studies of the juvenile form by Gilbert.
In Liverpool, in Sefton Park, is the decayed remains of a duplicate of the fountain, with the summit figure removed when I last visited, and on display in the conservation centre in the city.
View at the time the memorial was erected; behind is what is now the Trocadero, with extra storeys added.
From Piccadilly Circus, the opposite direction to Piccadilly leads naturally into Leicester Square, or one can walk southwards along Lower Regent Street to the statues in Waterloo Place, or southwards and eastwards to Trafalgar Square, or follow a sculpture walk along Piccadilly and Bond Street.
Top of page
Also in Piccadilly Circus // Sculpture pages