"Blow up revolting art": The disappearing public artworks Historic England wants the public to help find

By Ben Miller | 16 December 2015

Where did Britain's lost artworks go? A public appeal hopes to track down the post-war sculptures which have disappeared

A photo of a series of sculpted symbols and murals on the wall of a public walkway
The Armada Way murals, by Edward Pond and Kenneth Clark Ceramics, were 91 metres long and adorned the subways of one of Plymouth’s major road networks from 1987. In 2004 the city's council filled in the subway, destroying the murals in the process© Lynn Pearson
Heritage experts are appealing to the public to help track down some of Britain’s lost and stolen post-war artworks, including famous sculptures by Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore, ahead of a major exhibition revealing the scale of disappearing public works during the past 70 years.

Historic England says a “worrying” number of sculptures, architectural friezes and murals, created between 1945 and the mid-1980s, form the lengthy list of the lost, compiled with the help of historians, societies and some of the artists who made them. The earliest example, Ernest Adsetts’ Portland stone Aphrodite, was vandalised beyond repair in 2008 – the year the Sheffield-born sculptor died.

“Part of England’s national collection of public artworks is disappearing before our eyes,” warns Duncan Wilson, the Chief Executive of Historic England, which is partly carrying out the survey as part of Out There: Our Post-War Public Art at Somerset House in 2016.

“Historic England’s research is only the tip of the iceberg as it’s almost impossible to trace what has happened to every piece of public art since 1945.

“What we do know is that this art work was commissioned and created for everyone to enjoy, and it should remain accessible to all.

“We’re making efforts to protect the best examples of post-war public art that still exist, and make sure that it continues to enhance the public realm.

“But we also want to raise awareness of just how vulnerable these works can be and we want the public to help us track down lost pieces.”

The value of scrap metal, pressure on public bodies to fill funding gaps and pressure from redevelopment are among the reasons why streets, estates, parks and public spaces have lost their art, according to the research. Historic England hopes to list some of the remaining works identified as vulnerable.

Missing public artworks

A black and white photo of a stone sculpture of a woman standing up
© Harlow Art Trust

Ernest Adsetts, Aphrodite (1950). Harlow, Essex (destroyed)

Carved from Portland stone, by the Sheffield-born sculptor, this modest sculpture was placed near the base of a waterfall in Harlow Town Park. It was given to the Harlow Art Trust in 1957 by the Welsh landscape architect for the town, John St. Bodfan Gruffydd.

Harlow was one of the first “new towns” built after the Second World War. The commissioning and placing of public art was central to its aim of creating inspiring urban design. In 2008, the year Adsetts died, it was vandalised beyond repair.
 
A black and white photo of a large thin oval-shaped sculpture at night
© Historic England

Powell and Moya Architect Practice, Skylon (1951). Southbank, London (lost)

It was the icon of the Festival of Britain, a 300 metre futuristic beacon for the hordes of visitors that came to enjoy one the biggest events of the Post-War era. The brass ring plate that went around the base of the structure is kept at the Museum of London, but no one has been able to prove what happened to the rest of the structure.

Some say it was dismantled and thrown into the Thames, others that it ended up in the River Lee in east London. There’s rumour it’s buried under Jubilee Gardens on the Southbank itself while some believe it was sold for scrap.
 
A photo of a huge stone sculpture of a family on a public wall
© Historic England

Siegfried Charoux, The Islanders (1951). Southbank, London (lost)

The Islanders, by Siegfried Charoux, a Viennese sculptor, was a huge stone relief depicting a man and a woman and is often seen by art historians as a symbol of the struggle of the British people. It was always intended to be temporary work, mounted on the side of the Sea and Ships Pavilion at the Festival of Britain. It was probably destroyed after the festival.

A photo of a sculpture of two people holding hands while clinging to a white wall
© Historic England

Peter Laszlo Peri, The Sunbathers (1951). Southbank, London (lost)

Born in Budapest into a Jewish family, the artist moved to Germany and later Britain. He became a British citizen in 1939 and produced The Sunbathers for the Festival of Britain, a vast wall mounted concrete relief measuring 147 cm by 134 cm.

Peri, a pioneer of concrete sculpture, modelled the relaxed man and woman figures to jut out from the wall, enriching the flat surface of the architecture. Peri thought the unusual angle was easy to accept as people had become accustomed to it through aerial photography. Its current whereabouts is unknown.
   
A photo of a stone sculpture of a nude woman holding a large fish
© PMSA

Frank Dobson, Woman with Fish (1959). Tower Hamlets, London (destroyed)

Frank Dobson lost favour in the art world but has recently come to be recognised as one of the most important British sculptures of the 20th century. His sculpture was originally on the Cleveland Estate in Tower Hamlets, the work was repeatedly vandalised and eventually scrapped. Today, a replica stands in Millwall Park towards the southern end of the Isle of Dogs in east London.

A photo of two children looking at a small brown sculpture in a garden-like public space
© Heinz Henghes estate

Heinz Henghes, Birds in Flight (1960). Tulse Hill, London (destroyed)

This work was commissioned by London County Council for the Elm Court School for delicate children in Tulse Hill, South London. As part of the commission, Henghes was asked to make the piece suitable for children to handle.

The result is a bronze sculpture with three bold bird-like silhouettes. When a new headteacher began her post in 1986 she wondered why there was a plaque denoting the presence of the sculpture ‘Flight’ but no work to be seen and no record of its removal.
 
A photo of three square sculpted figures on grassland
© Historic England

Lynn Chadwick, The Watchers (1960). Roehampton University, London (stolen)

In 2006, thieves stole one of the three figures that make up the Grade II-listed piece. The sculpture sits in the grounds of Roehampton University and the two-metre high figure was sawn off at the legs.

Police estimate it would have taken at least eight people to carry the art work away. Despite investigations, no one knows what has happened to the sawn off figure.
A photo of a sculpture of a bull on a building next to a major roundabout
© Historic England

Trewin Copplestone, Bull Forms (1963). Birmingham (lost)

Copplestone was behind a set of four, two metre high, fibreglass bulls on the side of the 1963 Bull Ring shopping centre in Birmingham. Each sculpture was cast in one piece from a polystyrene mould onto a metal frame and weighed nine tonnes. The Bull Ring has been rebuilt and each of the bulls had been taken down and put into storage, but have since disappeared.
 
A photo of a grey public sculpture featuring sea-like carved figures
© Lynn Pearson

Mitzi Cunliffe, Cosmos 2 (1963-64). Wearmouth Hall, Sunderland (destroyed)

Mitzi Cunliffe is perhaps most famous for designing the BAFTA mask. Cosmos 2, commissioned to be on the public-facing side of the newly built Sunderland polytechnic’s Wearmouth Hall, was an ambitious panel of abstract concrete designs. Described by the manufacturer of the tiles as “sculpture by the yard”, they were destroyed when Wearmouth Hall was demolished in 2008.
 
A photo of a sculptural relief on the front of a light brown urban building
© William Mitchell

William Mitchell, sculptural relief (1964). Northern Polytechnic (Metropolitan University), Islington, London (destroyed)

William Mitchell’s bas-relief was commissioned by the London County Council for the elevation of an extension intended to increase the polytechnic’s facilities in modern technologies and create a building structure that would incorporate current thinking. With a change in fashion, the façade including the concrete structure was removed in 2004 to make way for the Daniel Libeskind designed Graduate School Building.
 
A photo of a circular light blue sculpture in a park
© Diamond Geezer - Creative Commons

Barbara Hepworth, Two Forms (Divided Circle) (1969). Dulwich Park, London (stolen)

One of Hepworth’s most famous sculptures, the piece in bronze had been in Dulwich Park in South London for more than 40 years when it was stolen in December 2011. It’s believed thieves broke through a padlocked gate to the park, drove up to the sculpture and used industrial tools to hack the work from its plinth.

Metal prices have gone up considerably in recent years prompting a series of thefts. Hepworth once said of the work: "You can climb through the Divided Circle – you don't need to do it physically to experience it."
A black and white photo of limb-like sculptures on a public plinth
© Historic England

Henry Moore, Reclining Figure (1969). Hertfordshire (stolen)

The bronze sculpture, measuring three metres long and two metres high, was stolen from the Henry Moore Foundation’s 72-acre estate in Hertfordshire in December 2005. It was usually displayed outside the Snape Maltings arts complex in Aldeburgh, but was at the Foundation while it was being prepared for an exhibition in Japan.

The theft baffled art and crime experts and sparked a global hunt for the culprits. Police said the piece was taken away on a flat-bed lorry and has most likely been melted down for scrap for around £1,500. The piece was estimated to be worth £3 million.
 
A black and white photo of a sculpted pole on a plinth inside a courtyard
© Harlow Museum

Gerda Rubinstein, City (1970). Harlow, Essex (stolen)

City was commissioned by the Harlow Art Trust for the Bishopsfield Estate in Harlow. It was made using a unique process developed by the artist where a mould is carved directly out of kiln bricks and the bronze is then cast.

The individual pieces were welded together and created a tower effect. In 2003 the top of the work was stolen and it has not been traced.  
 
A black and white photo of people standing next to sculpted poles on grassland
© Arnolfini

Barry Flannagan, The Cambridge Piece (1972). Laundress Green, Cambridge (destroyed)

This work was also part of the Peter Stuyvesant City Sculpture Project. Flanagan’s work, an abstract sculpture made of plastic, steel, canvas and sand. It was badly received and was vandalised by the public, including Cambridge students.

Several attacks on the work left it vandalised beyond repair. A local vicar at the time wrote to the local press, calling for the powers that be to “blow up revolting art”.
 
A black and white photo of a curved sculpture outside a building
© Arnolfini Gallery

William Tucker, Beulah IV (1972). Newcastle (lost)

Commissioned by the Peter Stuyvesant Foundation City Sculpture Project, Beluah IV was one of a series of steel sculptures by the artist William Tucker. By the time the work was finished Newcastle City Council had rejected the proposed site for the sculpture and the work was never displayed.

A black and white photo of a public sculpture which looks like legs protruding from a wall
© Arnolfini Gallery

Luise Kimme, Untitled (1972). Newcastle (lost)

Also commissioned by the Peter Stuyvesant Foundation City Sculpture Project, this sculpture by German-born Kimme did find a home. Painted in bold red and blue, the fibreglass sculpture spilled out from the external wall of the Laing Gallery in Newcastle down into the lawn and flower-beds Kimme herself redesigned.

Speaking of the work, Kimme said: “The impact of sculpture in the City should be instantaneous, on a blatant and obvious level, it should be obtrusive so as to capture the attention of the passing public.” It’s unclear what happened after the sculpture after its initial installation.
 
A black and white photo of a ladder-shaped sculpture
© Arnolfini Gallery

Kenneth Martin, Work for Arundel Gate (1972). Sheffield (lost)

This time commissioned by the Peter Stuyvesant Foundation City Sculpture Project for Sheffield, Martin created a 19-foot free standing column of abstract squares made of welded steel, then painted blue.

He chose the site, between a motorway flyover and the new Polytechnic building, so the public could see the piece at different heights. What happened to the work after the commission remains a mystery.
 
A black and white photo of a pineapple-shaped sculpture within a housing estate
© Historic England

William Mitchell, The Pineapple (1977). Basildon, Essex (lost)

Affectionately named “The Pineapple” by Basildon residents, the sculptural fountain was commissioned by the Ford Motor Company. The work was outside the front of Trafford House, the firm’s newly acquired premises in Cherrydown East, Basildon.

It only came to light that the piece had gone missing in 2014. It was last seen in 2011 when Colonnade, the owner and redeveloper of Trafford House, moved it into storage as it planned to turn the building into housing. Colonnade reported it missing in 2012.

Made of Corten metal, a kind of weathering steel, each triangle was hand cut and painstakingly dipped in water to achieve the rusted red colour Mitchell wanted. The artist estimated it would cost around £500,000 to recreate the work today.


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