The Royal Artillery Memorial at Hyde Park Corner, London - one of Britain's greatest sculptures and war memorials - has been carefully repaired and cleaned by English Heritage in time for this year's Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday.
The First World War memorial, familiar to the thousands who drive around Hyde Park Corner every day, has been returned to its original splendour following two-months of repairs, generously supported by a grant from the charitable trust, The Bulldog Trust.
Pollution and the elements had taken their toll on the memorial - the traffic fumes and the green algae caused by the overhanging trees had dirtied the monument while rain had penetrated the stonework, causing the joints to crack. Over the past two months, the monument has been shrouded in scaffold while the Portland stone was carefully cleaned, its brilliant white colour recovered from the grime, and the exquisite detail of the carved panels depicting life in the Royal Artillery were conserved. The joints have all been meticulously re-pointed and the bronze statues will be covered in protective coats of wax later this week.
The Royal Artillery Memorial is dedicated to the 49,076 men of the Royal Regiment of Artillery who died in the First World War. Described by architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner as a "masterpiece of British 20th century sculpture", the monument (erected in 1925) was designed by the sculptor Charles Sargeant Jagger with the architect Lionel Pearson. Jagger had served in the First World War and his work offers an uncompromising and unsentimental depiction of the reality of life and death on the battlefield.
The memorial is an enormous sculpture of a huge canon upon a large plinth of Portland stone with stone carved reliefs showing scenes from the First World War. An inscription above records the countries in which the gunners fought. Around its pedestal stand three bronze statues of gunners while a fourth lies dead under his cape and helmet with the inscription (from Shakespeare's Henry V), "Here Was A Royal Fellowship of Death".
Jagger's realistic designs for the memorial were initially criticised, particularly his bronze of a dead soldier and the massive stone canon which some viewers considered to be ugly and over-sized. However, the members of the Royal Artillery War Commemoration Fund, which had commissioned Jagger's design, approved his decisions, and expressed themselves entirely satisfied with the finished memorial, as did many veterans of the war.
The Royal Artillery Memorial is now widely regarded as a masterpiece and, along with the Cenotaph, one of the most powerful war memorials in the country. Art critic Brian Sewell has described it as "a great work of art, the last great war memorial, at least as great a sculpture as Picasso's Guernica is a great painting."
'A Great Work of Art'
Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage, said: "Public outrage at the recent targeting by metal thieves of war memorials shows how important they are to local communities and the country as a whole. They give us pause for thought and act as a focus for remembrance. It is vital that we protect and care for these monuments. The Royal Artillery Memorial is not only one of the great war memorials but a great work of art. English Heritage is delighted to give it the care and attention it deserves and we hope that these repairs will serve to remind people of this magnificent piece of sculpture in the heart of London."
Richard Q Hoare OBE, founder of the Bulldog Trust, said: "We are pleased to play our part in preserving this supreme example of Jagger's work as a tribute to nearly 50,000 men of The Royal Artillery who died during the First World War."
David Barrie, former Director of the Art Fund and who drew the attention of The Bulldog Trust to the condition of the memorial and secured the Trust's support, welcomed the news: "The Royal Artillery Memorial is the most powerful and moving war memorial in the country - and the master work of the great artist who created it. I'm delighted to have helped enable the restoration work that it so urgently needed."