One of many public art commissions made for the Festival of Britain in 1951, Peri’s sculpture had been missing for the past 60 years, feared destroyed like other works after the festival closed.
But after a campaign by Historic England to find lost public art, The Sunbathers was discovered in a poor state at the Clarendon Hotel in Blackheath, and has been transformed back to its former glory.
Originally installed on the wall above the Waterloo Station entrance on York Road, the pair of figures were made out of Peri-crete, a type of concrete created by the artist as a cheap alternative to bronze.
When the sculpture was located in the hotel garden, it was in a terrible state. Thanks to the successful Historic England crowdfunding campaign that raised over £22,000, the post-war sculpture could undergo extensive restoration. Layers of pale pink paint applied to the sculpture over the years were removed to reveal the sculpture’s former rich terracotta hue.
Apparently the sculpture made quite an impression on Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, who wrote upon seeing the work on his visit to the Festival in 1951, ‘the linked terra-cotta man and woman fly-defying gravity and elegantly hurrying up a W.C. wall.’
Now fully restored, the sculpture will hopefully again inspire the public, and as Celia Richardson of Historic England said, ‘The Sunbathers is a remarkable survival. It speaks of a time when the Festival gave hope, optimism and colour to a battered and bruised post-war nation.’ A sentiment that feels very apt in London’s current climate.