London’s museums and galleries are among the best in the world, but while they remain closed, there’s plenty of outdoor art and sculptures to discover. From grand, historic monuments such as the Wellington Arch in Hyde Park Corner with its imposing bronze quadriga atop the high pillars, to modern gems tucked away in park corners, such as Barbara Hepworth’s ‘Single Form’ in Battersea Park. Use your next London walk to take advantage of the art waiting for you around the city’s corners and map a route that allows you to discover some incredible artists. To get you started, we’ve rounded up some of the most striking outdoor art and sculptures that are worth a visit.
‘Three Perpetual Chords’
by Conrad Shawcross in Dulwich Park, SE21
British artist Conrad Shawcross — the youngest living member of the Royal Academy — made his mark in Dulwich Park in 2015 with his trio of large metal knots dotted across the park’s grass. Inspired by Shawcross’ interest in harmonics, the pieces are titled The Octave, The Fifth and The Fourth, representing the different parts of the western harmonic scale. The piece was commissioned by Southwark Council as a tribute to the Barbara Hepworth statue ‘Two Forms (Divided Circle),’ which was stolen from the park in 2011. A striking contrast between the industrialist metal and the natural surroundings, it’s proved a worthy replacement, stopping passersby in their tracks and inviting young children to hang off its metal loops.
by Barbara Hepworth in Battersea Park, SW11
While one Barabra Hepworth statue was stolen, there are a number of other striking works by the famous artist across the city. One particularly tranquil creation sits by the water — ‘Single Form,’ a large, flat, abstract oval shape made of bronze, with a window cut through that is open to interpretation. Some have said it represents a human form, while others say it depicts the cosmos. The Hepworth piece isn’t the only statue worth discovering in Battersea Park — the south London space is also home to Henry Moore’s ‘Three Standing Figures,’ which faces the lake at the corner of the Sub-Tropical Garden.
‘The Burghers of Calais’
by Auguste Rodin in Victoria Park Gardens, SW1
The French sculptor Auguste Rodin first created ‘The Burghers of Calais’ in 1889 as a symbol of freedom from oppression to be placed outside the Calais town hall. It tells the story of the siege of Calais in 1347, during the Hundred Years War, when after six years of being surrounded by English soldiers under King Edward III, six Calais citizens offered to sacrifice themselves so the rest of the town could live. When the King’s wife heard about this, she asked her husband to spare all the citizens’ lives, which he did, and all the citizens were allowed to leave safely. Four casts of the statue were made, and this one was bought by the National Art Collection Fund in 1911. Its placement in Victoria Park Gardens was recommended by Rodin himself.
by Yinka Shonibare in Howick Place, SW1
Contemporary London-based artist Yinka Shonibare weaves together his British and Nigerian heritage in this colourful piece that tries to represent the invisible. The gravity-defying sculpture uses painted fiberglass to try and embody the movement of wind, while the bold prints are inspired by West African textiles, meant to reflect adventure, possibility and freedom. Another Shonibare sculpture, the dramatically oversized ‘Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle’ that had been the fourth plinth commission for Trafalgar Square, can also be found outside the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.
‘A Bullet from a Shooting Star’
by Alex Chinneck in Greenwich Peninsula, SE10
Another gravity-defying piece, this startling creation by British artist Alex Chinneck takes his specialisation in architectural installations that feature optical illusions to new levels. Taking inspiration from the industrial landscape around the Thames, the upside-down electricity pylon is positioned to look as if it’s been shot from the sky into the earth. Using over 1180 metres of steel and sitting on foundations dug 25 metres into the ground, the impressive sculpture is 35 metres tall, and looks particularly striking at night, set against the lights of the London towers and lit up itself as a beacon for passing cars and planes.
‘A Sculpture for Mary Wollstonecraft’
by Maggi Hambling in Newington Green, N16
The sculpture commissioned to commemorate the 18th century feminist writer and advocate Mary Wollstonecraft drew some controversy when it was unveiled last November for its use of nudity and what some perceieved as an inappropriate objectification of the female body in a tribute to a feminist icon. The controversy, though, makes it only more worth a visit to draw your own conclusions. The bronze and granite sculpture features a nude female form rising out of an ambiguous, fluid shape, intended to represent the birth of the feminist movement, with Wollstonecraft’s famous quotation, ‘I do not wish women to have power over men but over themselves,’ inscribed on the plinth.
by Heather Phillipson in Trafalgar Square, WC2
The current commission on top of Trafalgar Square’s The Fourth Plinth continues the trend of speaking on current political and social issues. Following up Michael Rakowitz’s ‘The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist,’ Heather Phillipson’s statue features a giant melting ice cream sundae with a fly on one side and a drone on the other. The 9.4m tall sculpture, which is meant to respond to Trafalgar Square as a site of celebration and protest, is based on a piece she conceived in 2016 following the Brexit referendum and Trump election. The subversive statue will occupy the Plinth until spring 2022.
by George Frederic Watts in Kensington Gardens, W2
The energetic bronze statue of a man on horseback is a central piece in Kensington Gardens. British artist George Frederic Watts meant for the statue to be an allegory of the human need for new challenges, with the rider — like us — looking out onto the horizon in search of new challenges and progress towards the future. Watts spent 20 years on the sculpture, right up until his death in 1904. While the first bronze cast was made in 1904 for a memorial in Cape Town, South Africa, this cast was erected in 1907 by Watts’ widow and friends as a memorial to the artist, who had lived for years in Kensington.
Queen Alexandra Memorial
by Alfred Gilbert on Marlborough Rd, St James's, SW1
An often overlooked historic statue, the Queen Alexandra Memorial is hidden in plain sight across the road from St James’s Palace. A tribute to Queen Alexandra of Denmark, the wife of King Edward VII who was beloved by the British people right up until her death in 1925, the memorial is surprisingly moving. Located on the garden wall of Marlborough House, the house in which the couple lived until he was crowned, the art-nouveau, black enamel work sees the Queen surrounded by figures representing faith, love and hope, in tribute to her extensive charitable work.
‘Two Piece Reclining Figure No 3’
by Henry Moore in Brandon Estate, Southwark, SE1
While the Henry Moore Foundation is home to the greatest collection of Henry Moore pieces, there are a number of the British sculptor’s creations across the city. Perhaps one of the most beautiful is this quiet depiction of figures folded slightly over one another, made all the more striking for its being placed in the middle of a housing estate, living up to the idea of truly making art accessible for all. Instantly recognisable as a Moore, the bronze figures imbue a sense of calm and reassurance that is a much-needed these days.
Running between the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and The O2 in Greenwich, the three-mile route is London’s first dedicated modern and contemporary art walk. Similar to New York’s High Line development, the outdoor stretch through the city is dotted with an impressive collection of 30 artworks. From Anish Kapoor’s ‘ArcelorMittal Orbit’ to Antony Gormley’s ‘Quantum Cloud’, dramatic sculptures are set against a backdrop of the London skyline, with new pieces from the likes of Yinka Ilori and Rana Begum scheduled to join the route.
Sculpture in the City
The annual sculpture exhibition around the city’s Square Mile has extended its run until mid-April this year. The ninth installment of the free open-air pop-up sees intriguing contemporary artworks positioned against the various architecture backdrops of the City’s insurance district buildings. This year, the exhibition includes Kevin Francis Gray’s ‘Reclining Nude I’ in St Botolphs without Bishopsgate Churchyard, Shaun C. Badham’s neon ‘I’m Staying’ sign in Leadenhall Market and Elisa Artesero’s ‘The Garden of Floating Words’ on St Mary Axe.