Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain

Eros Statue, public art, Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain, London

Public Art : Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain

Nickname : Most commonly known as Eros Statue.

Sculptor : © Alfred Gilbert

Date Unveiled : The Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain was unveiled in 1893 by the Duke of Westminster, with the sculptor Gilbert being conspicuously absent. The Duke drank the first cup of water from the fountain amidst cheers from the crowd.

Description : The Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain is often mistakenly referred to as the Eros Statue, when in fact it is actually depicting his twin  brother , Anteros, " The God of Selfless Love".   The supporting leg of the 8ft aluminiun statue is solid while the rest of the body is hollow. The bronze fountain stands on an octagon base and features a series of marine motifs carved by Gilbert.

Statue of Eros, London, public art

Cost : The memorial budget eventually blew out to an estimated  £7000.

Interesting Points of Note : The Memorial Committee had commissioned sculptor Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm to create a marble statue in honor of the Earl for Westminster Abbey but chose Gilbert for the bronze memorial, on Boehm's recommendations. Gilbert who was only thirty two at the time had no desire to create a "coat and trousers" type statue and was not backwards in coming forwards to tell them so... 'I can't undertake the statue of Lord Shaftesbury; I prefer something that will symbolize his life's work.' Needless to say he got the commission. Throughout the course of creating the fountain, Gilbert and the committee were at continual logger heads.

The statue was the first in the world to be cast in aluminium.

Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain, Eros Statue, public artA rumor that the sculptor Gilbert had deliberately left off the arrow on the archer's bow as a pun on Shaftesbury's name, was denied by the artist. If you look closely Eros looks like he has already shot the arrow into the ground, thus the "shaft being buried" .

The statue is often referred to as Eros but in fact it was intended to be the image of his twin brother Anteros " The God of Selfless Love". Gilbert thought it apt to  celebrate the charitable life of the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury with Anteros rather than Eros or Cupid, the "frivolous tyrant". And besides,  Gilbert had already sculpted Anteros when he won the commission.

A long believed myth is the archer is aiming his bow at Shaftesbury Avenue or to the Earl's country seat in Wimborne Saint Giles, Dorset. However, the arrow is actually pointing towards Parliament, which is ironic considering Anteros is the " God of Selfless Love" don't you think?

The model used for the sculpture was Gilbert's assistant , 16 year old Italian Angelo Colarossi.

Eros statue, Public Art, LondonAfter the unveiling eight drinking cups were left chained to the fountain for the general public to use. By the following morning only two were left.

The Magazine of Art described the memorial as  "...a striking contrast to the dull ugliness of the generality of our street sculpture, ... a work which, while beautifying one of our hitherto desolate open spaces, should do much towards the elevation of public taste in the direction of decorative sculpture, and serve freedom for the metropolis from any further additions of the old order of monumental monstrosities."

91 year old Sir Harry Verney who went to school with the Earl was quoted as saying "it is a remarkably suitable memorial to Lord Shaftesbury, for it is always giving water to rich and poor alike at all times of day and night.'

The Times complained that with every puff of wind the drinker was left drenched and passers-by showered with water.

Soon after the opening, hooligans began using the fountain as a playground of sorts, spitting water at each other and deliberately muddying up the steps and stonework. This resulted in a parks keeper being placed on guard until the 24th of March 1894.

In 1925 the memorial was removed for the construction of Piccadilly Tube Station. The statue was temporarily erected in Embankment Gardens on a concrete block while the fountain base was stored at No. 195 Clapham Road. It would be 7 years before the memorial would return to Piccadilly Circus. It was erected a little further east and 16 inches higher to balance up with the height of the new buildings.

During the outbreak of World War II in 1939, the statue was once again removed, this time to Cooper's Hill in Egham to keep it safe from bombings. It was re-erected on June 28th, 1947.

During the Coronation  of the Queen in 1953 a cage was built over it to protect it from the crowds.

Controversy , Controversy, Controversy: If you thought the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain was without controversy you'd be seriously mistaken. Take a highly strung artist and a board of committee members reluctant to make decisions and you get a drama befitting a soap opera.

A nude statue raised more than a few eyebrows in conservative England. It also didn't help that the public believed the archer to be Eros the "god of sensual love", which was a totally inappropriate for the respectable Earl.

At the time the location of the memorial also seems inappropriate as the "theatre" district was considered the vulgar end of town.

Gilbert had a love/hate relationship from start to finish with the County Council and committee involved in the memorial and in the end, after a series of harshly worded letters he withdrew from any further involvement with it. He was angered by the criticism directed at him, and his work, by people who had no artistic understanding. At one stage he even  dared them to pull it down. I am guessing comments such as these lead to his despair  ...

'the figure on the summit' was 'hideous, indecent and ludicrous', and the memorial was 'ugly, pretentious, unsuitable, and a decided nuisance, so that it is devoutly to be hoped that the entire memorial will shortly follow the lost cups, and that something more worthy of the Great and Good Earl will be erected in its place'.

The Times - 'Can you explain to a pensive citizen what principle inspires the London County Council in its conduct of what are called our fountains?' 

National Liberal Club -'one of, if not the very ugliest monument that can be found in any capital in Europe'

William Robinson - 'the dreadful monument in Piccadilly' was the work of 'somebody who has no idea of the dignity of design and the simplicity that mark all pure design'.

'The best thing that can be done with it is to return the bronze to the melting-furnace, and the "compo" to its pristine elements'.

'the proper place for the 'nude human figure' was 'over the entrance to the Oxford-street Music-hall'

Gilbert wrote in 1911- 'I am the unfortunate author of the fountain, and I designed it years ago and ruined myself for a sentiment. That sentiment was suggested to me by a knowledge of the life of the Earl of Shaftesbury, in whose memory the work was erected. He was a friend of the poor, and encouraged all sorts of labour which should help them to help themselves. The earl had the betterment of the masses at heart, and I know that he thought deeply about the feminine population and their employment. Thus, with this knowledge, added to my experience of Continental habits, I designed the fountain so that some sort of imitation of foreign joyousness might find place in our cheerless London. I have been doomed to disappointment from start to finish. I not only ruined myself, but I have brought upon my head periodical attacks on my poor work, the best I could do years gone by.'

Gilbert left England in 1909 and lived in Bruges with his wife (his first cousin) only returning to England in 1926.

List of Damage to The Eros Statue : On 31 December 1931 a man climbed up the statue and damaged Eros's bow.

In 1994 a drunk tourist climbed up the statue bending the archer resulting in it being renovated.

Inscription : The inscription was written by the then Prime Minister W. E. Gladstone.

Erected by public subscription, to Anthony Ashley Cooper K.G. Seventh Earl of Shaftesbury born. April XXVIII. MDCCCI. Died. October I. MDCCCLXXXV. During a public life of half a century he devoted the influence of his station. The strong sympathies of his heart. And the great powers of his mind. To honouring God by serving his fellowmen.An example to his order. A blessing to this people. And a name to be by them ever gratefully remembered.

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