Piccadilly

Piccadilly stretches from Piccadilly Circus in the east, to Hyde Park Corner in the West. Along the route on the north side is Burlington House, home of the Royal Academy, and on the south side Fortnum and Mason, the Ritz, St James Piccadilly, which is a Wren church, and Green Park. As well, a natural focus of the street half way along is the junction with St James Street to the south, and Albemarle Street and Old Bond Street to the north. Bond Street makes a good diversion, and so does St James Street (not described here), and perhaps through into Pall Mall, which leads to Waterloo Place.

We start from Eros in Piccadilly Circus, covered on a separate page, going along the south side. First along, very slight and only worth a glance, by Eagle Place is National and Provincial Bank, with the emblem on the corner of the building above the door consisting of a group of two cherubs holding the banner of the bank, and in their other hands, an olive branch and a palm leaf, a minor work by F. W. Pomeroy, dated 1873.

A little further, our first proper destination is St James Piccadilly, set back from the road with a small market in the yard in front.

St James Church, Piccadilly

Wren was the architect, and the church was put up in the 1670s-80s with a spire added in about 1700, some minor additions in Victorian times, and a restoration after damage in World War 2. Inside, various minor monuments, and important work by Grinling Gibbons. This website does not cover woodwork, but we should mention his work here around the altar, including extremely ornate fruit, vines, garlands and birds, and the gilded figures on the organ. More relevant to our interest, also by Gibbons is a font in white marble, showing the tree of life, with Adam and Eve, modesty preserved with a sprig of fig leaves and long hair respectively, snake, little flowers and foliage at the floor, and a baptism scene above. Wholly charming.

The monuments are wall plaques, and among various humble things we may mention:

There are various artists buried in the church, including the Willem Van de Velde, father and son, hugely important in the 17th Century as sea painters, and from our period, Robert Anning Bell, G. S. Watson, Herbert Hughes-Stanton, F W Pomeroy whose work we saw on the National and Provincial Bank, and J J Shannon.

Royal Society of Painters in Watercolours

Verheyden's group on the Royal Society of Watercolour Painters.

Continuing along the south side, we pass Fortnum and Mason, 1920s, with its sculpted arms holding torches, little heads etc, and then, on the other side, the Royal Academy at Burlington House.

Next to Fortnum and Mason on the south side – we really need to cross over to the north, Academy side here to see it – is the Royal Society of Painters in Watercolours, with the unadventurous Princes Arcade underneath, lofty at the front, shallow at the further end, but without serious ornament. The RSW bears portrait sculptures of famous members of the society, by Onslow Ford no less, but not particularly recognisable as by him. They represent De Wint, Cozens, David Cox, Sandby, Barret, Girtin, Turner, and William Hunt. And above the door, a substantial group of two classical maidens by Verheyden, wearing off-the-shoulder gowns, unfortunately rather losing something in their outlines from black staining on the pale stone, a little shield in between them bearing the date 1883. Already rather weathered, and one, alas, has lost a hand. I know nothing of the artist, though the name is Belgian.

Panel from the front of the RSW, by Onslow Ford

Burlington House and the Royal Academy

Burlington House, home of the Royal Academy and various other learned institutions, was built in the 17th Century, and refaced in the early 18th Century by Colin Campbell to make it Palladian. Samuel Ware remodelled it again in the 1810s, mostly inside, and in the 1860s through to the 1870s, Robert Richardson Banks and Charles Barry Jr put it in the state we see it today. Facing onto Piccadilly, Banks and Barry added the front range, with high triple-archway, and seven bays to each side. All very Italianate. At the time it was built, the archway was thought to be the ‘largest archway of the sort in London, being 20ft clear in width and abou 32ft in height. The façade of Burlington House is fully seen from Piccadilly through this archway…’.Banks and Barry also did the wings on the left and right of the internal courtyard, housing the Chemical Society, Linnean Society etc, again in Italian vein. Sydney Smirke, also working in the 1870s, redid the frontage of the original block, increasing the height of the building and adding a frontal arcade.

The exterior sculpture dates then from the 1870s. On the main frontage of Burlington House are standing figures of great artists and architects as follows:

Beneath these on the arcade, several keystone heads, and a few more are above arches around the courtyard. Along with several bearded warriors and priests, one of which is an Assyrian and another a Pharaoh (see the Egyptian style page for various other things of this genre), they include a Roman girl wearing a lionskin, a Greek girl symbolic of peace, with crown of olive leaves, a dove and, oddly, acorn earrings and, and best of all, a veiled girl in the style made popular by Italian sculptors.

The front archway has four spandrel groups, two inside, two outside, each showing an elegant emblematic girl, accompanied by one or more cherubs. Good work, which I believe to be by the excellent and prolific Birnie Philip. On the outside, to the left, perhaps Literature, holding a scroll and book, a swan behind – could this be rather a Leda and the swan? – it would be in the sense of her engendering of beauty (Helen of Troy). The right hand spandrel is clearer – she is clearly emblematic of the Sciences, holding a telescope and set square, her cherub looking at a globe, a snake behind her other shoulder, symbol of medicine.

On the interior of the gate, the left hand figure, the most beautiful of the four, has her back to us for compositional reasons, and looks at us over her shoulder. She is some creature of the heavens, having a foot on the moon, and being accompanied as well as by her two cherubs, a further winged figure with a butterfly on her head, and a winged globe. A hatching egg and a pepper may also be spotted by the sharp sighted. Perhaps Heavenly Inspiration? Finally, the fourth figure is most clear as the Arts – the girl herself holds nothing, but looks at the image of a nude on a shield held by a cherub with a sculptor’s mallet, resting on top of a pillar (architecture); the other cherub has palette and musical instruments, and a large decorated pot. All in the best possible taste.

In the centre of the courtyard, though often accompanied by some modern work associated with the Summer Exhibition, is a bronze statue of Sir Joshua Reynolds, first President of the Royal Academy, by Alfred Drury. Rather mannered, and not among my favourite works by Drury.

If not going to a paid-for show, you should at least visit the free bit of the interior, which has four rooms of the old Burlington House, with decorated ceilings, fireplaces, and a small, changing display of works from the Academy’s own collection, including one room usually with woodcuts and engravings.

Exit the building, and to see the rear side, go through Burlington Arcade, just to the left. Burlington Arcade was built by Samuel Ware in 1818/19, and somewhat altered in the early 20th Century by Beresford Pite, who added two big busts or steles, male and female on big brackets to the side, and a triple-arched arcade above on columns, rather echoing the original ground floor level frontage. The two busts, it has to be said, are somewhat hideous, with a grotesque twist to the neck; better are the very small figures to either side of the keystone position, rather recessed, showing a man and a woman, each with an infant. Far above, a shield with flanking stag and dog. Almost opposite, Piccadilly Arcade (1909/10), with no sculptural interest.

Anyhow, as said, proceeding through Burlington Arcade leads to the rear of Burlington House, now part of the Academy, previously the Museum of Mankind, and in the 1870s, when it got its sculptural decoration, owned by the Government. There are more than a score of statues here:

Diversion up New Bond Street

Instead of going back through the arcade, following Burlington Gardens leads directly to Old Bond Street. However, instead of turning immediately south back towards Piccadilly, a 10-minute diversion may be taken carrying on north, with Old Bond Street becoming New Bond Street. The point where Old Bond St becomes New is marked by an excellent modern bronze of 1995 called Allies, gift of the Bond Street Traders themselves, by Lawrence Holofcener – would there was more modern work of this quality.

New Bond Street is notable for many fine buildings, especially in the Italianate fashion, but little significant sculpture. Our diversion is for two buildings with statues by known artists:

No. 70-71 has three standing figures in slightly weathered Portland Stone representing Science, Commerce and Art. They are by two different artists working in the early 20th Century. Two are by Roslyn: Commerce, in the centre, holds some sort of belt, and Art, the better of the two, holds a paintbrush and palette, and in her other hand, a little nude torso. The third figure, Science, is a rather splendid semidraped girl holding a pot with some ampoule perhaps being heated in it, and with a globe on a heap of books to the left. The style is notably different in the harder treatment of the face, the more slender build, and the bolder drapery, and is by Thomas Rudge.

Rudge's Science and Poole's Painting

No. 148 is the Fine Art Society, mid-1870s by E. Godwin, with a couple of cherubs holding a shield, but much more important is the building next door, No. 144-146, originally the gallery of Colnaghi and Obach, by the architects Lanchaster and Rickards, and dating from 1911. On the frontage of this stands a rather magnificent figure by Henry Poole, emblematic of Painting, and holding a palette. But she is much more than just that – an 18th Century aristocratic figure in an elegant gown, with an ornate pot by her side, a watch chain, a fan and other accoutrements at her feet, and some shrub with massed flowers behind. Apparently the material is porcelain.

Old Bond Street and Royal Arcade

One of the faces on the facade of 22 Old Bond Street

Returning back down to Old Bond Street, or without the diversion simply turning left from Burlington Gardens, we need to go backwards and forwards across the road to be able to see each building from the opposite side. Just to the right, on the opposite side of Bond Street no 175-176 is Cartier, on which above the door there is a reclining Athena in metal, or much more likely, painted in some metallic colour. She has a shield depicting the Medusa, and her owl by her feet. Higher up, in the narrow spandrels of the principal arched windows are semidraped girls with mirrors and other accoutrements, with olive, oak and palm leaves, somewhat stylised, behind, and the arches themselves have keystone heads. Immediately on the left hand corner of Burlington Gardens, is number 24 with little spire and painted motifs, built in the mid-1920s, very late for this sort of thing. No. 22, next door is an interesting Italianate building, four windows wide, and more ornate than most, with elegant granite pillars, on a cream ceramic façade with decorative eagles above the second floor, and above each window, little heads with swirly hair, eight in all in three designs. Diagonally opposite this is the Royal Arcade, the best of the arcades. The façade has two panels of reclining girls with frolicking cherubs, two half-figures of girls on steles on each side, and a roundel with some young queen above, with garlands of fruit and flowers around. Cheerful, hardly in a high art manner, rather lowbrow and rather nice, and belonging in a seaside town rather than here in London. The other end, in Albemarle Street, is identical. The arcade dates from1880.

Royal Arcade, 1880

Cross back to the left side of the road. Close to the arcade is Agnews in red brick at no 43, dating from 1877 by E. Salomons, and next to that, dating from 1898, is no. 32, a building by Beresford Pite. At first floor level, two crouched semidraped girls, anonymous – I would not hazard an attribution, because they look so different before and after repainting; but the two high relief figures above, one symbolic of Harvest, look rather like Gilbert Bayes.

Figures from 32 and 44 Old Bond Street

Lastly in Old Bond Street, before returning to Piccadilly, is a strange pink building, number 44, with 2 nudes below, drapery behind and on their heads, and on the gable, winged cherub and dated 1906. The architect, says Pevsner, was E. A. Hunt.

Back in Piccadilly

Justice et al, by Herbert Binney, Norwich Union building

Back in Piccadilly we might note that more or less opposite Old Bond Street was the Egyptian Hall, which housed a series of museum exhibitions. Turning right, the next junction is with Albemarle Street, and on the south side, St James Street. This is a centrepiece of the street, and the best view is still from the North side, after having crossed over Albemarle St. On the western corner of St James Street with Piccadilly is a tall tiled building bearing identical pairs of cherubs high up, and over the corner doorway, a plaque by Albert Drury, a small thing of two cherubs next to a baroque shield depicting a heron or similar water bird. On the eastern corner of St James Street and Piccadilly is the Norwich Union building, with an important sculptural group by Hibbert Binney. The centrepiece is of course Justice, carrying her scales and unsheathed sword. She is heavily draped, while the girl at her feet on the left has an off-the shoulder garment that still manages a heaviness, and the young man on the right is unclad but for a strategically draped cloth. The girl holds corn, and the man looks into the future - thus as a couple, they are concerned with the long term and save, reaping the corn they have sown bit by bit – appropriate allegory for an insurance society. The building also bears three pairs of cherubs in stone at 3rd floor height.

Crossing over, and looking back to the north side, the carpet shop on the corner with Albemarle Street, a Doulton terra cotta effort in Renaissance style, can be seen to have terra cotta medallions showing religious and mythological portraits - apparently taken from coins in the British Museum. It dates from 1887/8, was built as the Albemarle Hotel, and the architects were George and Peto.

Going under the arches of the Ritz brings us to the north side of St James Park, Green Park, and the tube station. There are however three more things sculptural to see. Firstly, a hundred yards or so along, is a complex ironwork gate. This was built for a great house in Turnham Green in the early 18th Century, then in the 19th Century moved first to Chiswick House and then Devonshire House, and then to its current position just after WW1. The sphinxes at each end, then, would be 18th Century. Strange things, with leonine naturalistic slender bodies, long necks, European rather than remotely Egyptian female heads, and headdresses trailing forward over the breasts. Oddly, the front paws overlap the edge of their supporting bases, leaving them hanging and suggesting they were made for some other setting. All this has the feel of the sculptor Henry Cheere, though I have not been able to find any references suggesting this.

Opposite, we may note the entrance to Half Moon Street, with some 1960s or 70s hideosity on the corner, bearing four sculptured panels, showing from bottom, Diana the Huntress, minstrel in harlequin with stringed instrument, Mercury with boat, and an owl among trees, whimsical and naïve – a certain Keith Godwin was apparently the sculptor.

Finally, 50 yards further to west, beyond White Horse St, is nos 101-4 – a tall block of 3 bays, each with a pair of allegorical girls in the spandrels at first floor level, more minor decoration higher up. Among the girls, one pair probably represent the Arts, with easel, small statue of an angel holding a ball; the Empire, holding a portrait of Victoria, and a Britannia with trident, Union Jack, helm and nice mailshirt – the latter most emblematic, with trident, lighthouse and ship behind, acorn leaves. The third pair, semidraped figures symbolic of Europe and Asia. Europe, with castellated crown, sword hilt as a cross, a staff, olive branch and horned cow behind; Asia, holding a lamp, wearing exotic necklace and arm arms, and elepant and the leaves of perhaps a breadfruit tree behind. The next pair are Africa, another exotic maiden with tasselled jewellery, a fan, a broken chain, date palm and camel behind. And Australia, classical face, complex hair arrangement, cradling a gun and a sheep. Various portraits in profile, including perhaps Canada with a beaver, an owl; highest of all, little cherubs and grotesque lions.

And there ends the walk. One can go back to Green Park tube, or southwards across the park (taking in a good 20th Century sculpture of Diana the Huntress by E. J. Clack) to Buckingham Palace and the Victoria Memorial, or onward to the end of the park, to Hyde Park Corner and Constitution Arch.

Spandrel girls from 101-4 Piccadilly

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