At this time of year many folk will be considering the trip to a favourite city to gain inspiration for Christmas gifts or maybe just to take in the lights and soak up the festive atmosphere. If you are heading for the West End of London for your shopping spree, I thought you might like to take time out from trudging down Oxford Street to take a coffee break and discover some of my favourite Equestrian statues.
Whilst there are plenty of famous leaders to be found astride a stately mount, from the earliest one of Charles I standing at Charing Cross, cast by the French sculptor Hubert Le Sueur circa 1633, to the more recent 1928 monument to the great Earl Haig in Whitehall by Alfred Frank Hardiman, here are a few of the more unusual which you may not have encountered in the guide books.
The Four Horses of Helios – The Haymarket
Set at the corner of The Haymarket and Piccadilly Circus you will find this stunning bronze, made by Rudi Weller in 1992 and installed within a fountain which offers the piece movement and an ethereal life.
Helios was the Greek god of the sun and each day he drove his golden chariot across the sky from East to West, resting and returning again in readiness for the new day. The chariot was drawn by four golden horses named Pyrios, Eos, Aethon and Phleyon. It is these godlike creatures which the sculptor captures in this piece. If you have never seen it, I urge you to take a look next time you are in the vicinity.
Peace descending on the Quadriga of War – Wellington Arch
Looking up above the familiar Arch which marks the gateway to The Mall, you will see a magnificent chariot of four elevated horses, and if you look more closely you will see a small boy amidst leading the Quadriga with the figure, an angel of Peace descending from heaven. There are similar sculptures all over the world of this Quadriga emblem depicting the victory and honour of it’s Roman gods, but this one uniquely includes the young son of Lord Michelham who funded the sculpture designed by Adrian Jones in 1912.
Still Water – Marble Arch
Sculpted by Nic Fiddian Green and unveiled in 2010, at 33 feet high it is the tallest free standing bronze sculpture in London. Depicting a mighty disembodied head of a horse lowered as if about to drink from still water, it is certainly more modernist and totally different to the more traditional artwork, and for that alone it is worth a look. The original temporary figure formerly sited there, now sits on the Gloucestershire estate of Anthony Bamford who had commissioned it. A recent clean up of the monument was in the news as the sculptor carried out the work himself!
War Memorial to the Cavalry of Empire – Serpentine Road Hyde Park
Sculpted by Adrian Jones and unveiled in 1924 depicting St George defeating the dragon. The armor was based on a 15th century effigy of the Earl of Warwick, the horses bridlework taken from that found on Durer’s engraving of Saint George.
Animals in War – Park Lane
An outstanding and fitting tribute created by David Backhouse and unveiled by Princess Anne on 24th November 2004. Surely this is an important monument for all horse lovers in recognition of the contribution made by equines over the centuries of war. Particularly at this time of year when on Armistice Day we remember the last devastating loss of life in the Great War almost 100 years ago. Animals in War is also a reminder that it is not only horses that played a part. It depicts two heavily laden mules trudging towards and opening in the stone screens, beyond lies a grass mound with a cavorting horse and dog enjoying final relief from suffering.
Fortunately horses are no longer expected to carry the ill fated brave cavalry to the front, this statue reminds us that in every conflict up until the mid 20th Century, horses were our essential, if unwitting allies.
Enjoy your shopping trips wherever they may take you, I hope you can take some time out to discover the horse history in your local town, for surely there will be some if you dig a little!