Sculpture walk round Bath

Decorative sculpture near the baths, Abbey behind

One would hardly visit Bath for the public sculpture, but there are a few bits to note in the centre. 10 minutes out of the centre, the Royal Victoria Park has a separate page. The exterior of the Victoria Art Gallery, with Queen Victoria by Lucchesi and the Lawson friezes, are noted on the gallery page. By the Abbey, in the open space formed by Abbey church yard, is a fountain with a girl in white marble, rather severe, pouring from a vase into a shallow bowl. On the front, the motto ‘Water is best.’ On the rear, a note that the edifice was erected by the Bath Temperance Association, founded June 15th 1836, June 8th 1861 (the page on Victorians and Water notes related work). A 1986 bronze addition from which modern water flows has an odd contorted fig of a girl.

The Temperance fountain

In Quiet Street, nos. 8-9 consists of a flat-fronted building with two niches bearing statues, and a free-standing statue above. The pair are signed by L[ucius] Gahagan, Sculptor Bath.’ Genius is a lightly muscled male angel; Commerce a matronly woman. Up above, not signed, or with signature worn away, is what would seem to be Mercury, clutching a bag of money, wearing a winged Thracian helmet, a cockerel by his side.

A further work by Lucius Gahagan is the bust of Garrick on the Garrick’s Head Hotel, on St John’s Place. He is shown with a stylish collar, and on the verge of a smile. This is the side of the New Theatre Royale. Further along the little passage of St John’s Place is St Paul parish Hall, with shell designs, lions heads, other minor ornament, and round the corner, a little head. The other flank of the New Theatre Royale is exposed on Beauford Square, plain classical with decoration along the top edge – a bulky coat of arms, 6 free-standing lyres rather than pots along the top, with on the architrave, classical masks of comedy and tragedy separated by garlands of flowers.

On Broad Street, King Edward School has, on the pediment, a very large coat of arms of the city - a shield showing a sword in front of a castle wall, borne by a lion in very early style with a bald appearance but the mane stretching down on chest and underside, and a bear, pot-bellied and with a fleecy appearance. The sculptor was Joseph (Guiseppe) Plura, an Italian artist who, it seems, was trained in Turin, and settled in Bath by 1749, where he worked for Prince Hoare before setting up on his own in the early 1750s. Busts by him on the facade of the School were removed in the 1970s.

Plaque in Melsom Street

An old bank on the corner of Melsom Street and St George St, dated 1865, has several bearded and serious heads above the lower windows. Further minor sculptural decoration in the central range of classical, Corinthian-pillared buildings along Melsom Street - little lion’s heads in stone high up, and goats’ heads bearing garlands through their twisted horns. One side of this range, what is now the Alliance and Leicester, dated 1891, has a terracotta ground floor, with above the arches, two shields and two small, simple figural scenes in the spandrel positions. One shows a seated man in classical dress, presumably a merchant, reading, clutching what may be a bag of gold, behind him a ship and steam train, and packages newly delivered. The second has a girl, surrounded by grape vines, with a bowl of fruit on her lap, and under the step beneath, what might be pots of condiments. All suggestive of an importer’s business. The bottom of Melsom St has a blank wall of a building, with a niche holding a mutilated cherub, too small, feeble and battered for its place in the view.

The rear of the Baths has various sculptural adornments, including on the arch (see top of page), a rather excellent bearded head with a winged helmet. On the wall nearby, a bust of probably Athena. Nearby on York St, two pairs of sphinxes with high relief portraits of classical girls with snakes, of earlier dates.

The Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases, squeezed down a side street, has an impossible-to-properly-see pediment composition with the Good Samaritan. Echoes of two of the monuments in the Abbey. Again the collapsed man in the centre, with the middle-eastern turbaned samaritan pouring salve on his body, and a donkey rather than a horse more filling out the right hand side of the space than being a part of the story. The central tree is reduced to a small plant on a ridge behind him. Finally, we note that Parade Gardens has a couple of sculptural works, including a large late 19th Century bronze of an angel.

The Good Samaritan, Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases

Top of page

Victoria Art Gallery // Bath Abbey // Royal Victoria Park

Victorian art in Britain // Sculpture pages