Historical 2008

Sculpture and landscape "Landscape has been for me one of the sources of my energy.....the whole of nature is an endless demonstration of shape and form." So wrote Henry Moore. The earliest man-made landscapes were the Islamic gardens of antiquity designed to recreate a vision of paradise on earth - a profusion of plants and flowing water. Over the ages gardens were embellished with figures, originally of gods - in particular Neptune and Pan - to be followed by mock Greek temples, pavilions, elaborate urns and all manner of statuary. Many of the great gardens of England were used by their owners to display Roman and Greek statues acquired during their travels in Europe.

The Third Lord Holland and his successors were great collectors, and early nineteenth century engravings of the grounds of Holland House show many typical features: no fewer than three fountains; statues (including an unidentified figure, possibly of a god); a head of Napoleon by Canova and a plethora of elaborate urns filled with plants on the terraces. The third Lord Holland also erected an antique Roman altar on the site of the duel fought in 1804 between Lord Camelford and Captain Best in which Lord Camelford died. These, together with the contents of the house, were for the most part lost when the house was bombed in September 1940 and the estate abandoned until it was acquired by the London County Council in 1952. Then only fragments of statues and other objects were found in the outhouses and in the undergrowth.

Since then the grounds of Holland House - now Holland Park - have been home to a number of sculpture exhibitions: in 1954 to mark its opening to the public; in 1975 when there was a major exhibition of figurative sculpture; and more recently in 2000 when thirty pieces of contemporary bronze sculpture by British artists were brought together to mark the millennium.

Here are some of the pieces in this exhibition which gave me particular pleasure:

'Journey 11' by Charlotte Meyer: a giant shell appropriately sited in the pond behind the 4th Lord Holland's statue. 'Horse Power' by Zodok Ben-David: a graceful prancing horse which was clearly visible across the playing fields alongside the avenue where horse-drawn carriages would have driven up to the house from Kensington High Street. 'Natural History 2000' by Bill Woodrow: a tree sculpture sited in the centre of the formal garden, where a fountain once stood. The tree trunk was composed of a pile of books returned to their source, and so symbolizing a tree weeping for our disregard of nature. A bronze statue, Milo of Croton, donated by The Friends in 2003 now stands there. 'Tortoises with Triangle and Time' by Wendy Taylor, which is on loan to Holland Park and still to be seen on the D lawn: The gnomon is designed for the latitude of Holland Park, but due to the elliptical passage of the earth round the sun, the real time shadowed on the sundial does not correspond exactly with Big Ben! Of the millennium sculptures, this is perhaps my favourite. The ridged shells of the tortoises invite you to touch them and their shape encourages children to climb over them.

Among the lost pieces was the delicate cherubs and dolphins statue, part of a fountain which used to stand in t
he courtyard to the south of Holland House. Perhaps as part of future plans for the remains of the house a new fountain could be sited here. At present there is only one fountain in the park, the elegant bronze fountain, 'Sibirica', by William Pye installed in the iris garden in 1999 and donated by The Friends. Here four sparkling jets catch the light as they flow into small bowls on the surface of the pond.

So, despite past losses, there are still many delights to be discovered, such as the figure of the boy with bear cubs by John Macallan Swan close to the cafeteria and the statue - probably the oldest in the park - of an unidentified melancholy old man half hidden by shrubs to the north of the formal garden. For me, whether old or new, they enhance and complement the landscape.

Kathleen Hall

To explore the sculptures and architectural features of Holland Park use as your guide 'H is for Holland' by Christopher Wood, published by The Friends of Holland Park, price £3.
[Autumn 2008]