GILBERT BAYES Art Deco Sculptor (1872-1953)

by Michael Barker 

Although his long, prolific and versatile career spanned the Arts and Crafts era as a fully-fledged member of the New Sculpture movement and Art Nouveau, it is Gilbert Bayes’ Art Deco period which left such an enduring visual mark. He was responsible for more public sculpture than any other artist working in Britain between the wars, often on a large and architectural scale. Interest in him and his work fell away after his death, until it revived in the 1980s, culminating in the production of a complete catalogue raisonné of his works in 1998.[1]

gilbert

A long and storied career  

Elected  an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1892, Bayes was a regular exhibitor there from 1888,  until his death in 1953. He had early on gained travelling scholarships with three months in Italy and nine months in Paris. Living and working in London all his life, based at his mansion with a large garden at 4 Greville Place in St John’s Wood, he was President of the Royal Society of British Sculptors and a Master of the Art Workers’ Guild. He was most emphatically not a modernist sculptor, wanting his works to be above all “likeable”, which Louise Iriving[2] parses to mean producing works with “human interest, beauty and…attractive”. His attraction as a sculptor of works in the inter-war period lies in the skill with which he and some of his contemporaries established “modified forms of modernism” by adopting some of the traits of modernist sculptors like Gill, stylised forms in particular. The works of more avant-garde sculptors like Epstein were not well-received by contemporary travellers “On the Clapham Omnibus”, as you can read in another society  blogpost on 55 Broadway; Bayes was a safe pair of hands if you wanted to raise the spirits of those passing by your building, rather than provoke them.

Two award-winning works bookend his inter-war output.  His colourful faience garden fountain entitled Boy with Fish, or more poetically Blue-robed Bambino, won the Diploma of Honour and Gold Medal at the 1925 Paris Universal Exhibition. Although the form of this work is not especially forward-looking, its striking colour scheme and carefully-crafted setting in the British Pavilion no doubt endeared it to the judges. Bayes apparently made a limited edition of this sculpture, at least one of which was sold recently at auction.[3]  In 1939 he was awarded the Gold Medal at the Paris Salon for his alluring bronze figure of the naked Frog Princess, now in the Victoria & Albert Museum’s Bayes Gallery. This work, based on a fairy story, “epitomises exuberance and joy” in the words of one blogger.

1925
Bayes with the Garden Fountain that won him gold at the 1925 Paris Exhibition

Bayes began a long collaboration in 1923 with Royal Doulton, known since the late 19th century for their architectural terracotta, which enabled him to pursue his interest in colour. His major commission was the massive Queen of Time clock above the main entrance to Selfridges store, completed in 1931 and without doubt, still today, the most significant Art Deco public sculpture in London – a winged angel of gilded bronze and polychrome reliefs.

Some London highlights

For Royal Doulton’s new headquarters on Albert Embankment in Lambeth, completed in 1939 to a modernist design by T P Bennett, and soon recognised as one of the best and most elegant Art Deco buildings in London, Bayes created a massive polychrome frieze for its façade, colourfully illustrating pottery through the ages. Alas the demise of Doulton’s manufacture in Lambeth post-war led to the building’s destruction in 1971. A group of volunteers led by Paul Atterbury, Doulton’s historian, however managed to save the frieze; its elements were moved to the Ironbridge Gorge Museum where restoration was undertaken. It is now displayed in the Victoria & Albert Museum where by contrast on the museum’s façade are two youthful Bayes stone sculptures of 1905: the architects Sir William Chambers and Sir Charles Barry.

Also on Albert Embankment, and still in situ on the London Fire Brigade headquarters of 1937 designed by E P Wheeler, are Bayes’s low relief memorial panels of officers and men who lost their lives in service.

Another major public work is in Shaftesbury Avenue, a long low-relief sculpture of fashionable figures in the dress of the era, entitled ‘Drama Through the Ages,’ of 1930 on the façade of the former Saville Theatre, now an Odeon cinema, designed by T. P. Bennett.  For this Bayes received a Silver medal from the Royal Society of British Sculptors.

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Saville Theatre (1931) by T. P. Bennett – Now Odeon Covent Garden
Saville
Drama through the ages – Bayes

North of Euston station, via Chalton Street, is a development for the St Pancras Housing Association designed in the 1930s by Ian Hamilton as social housing. As well as decent wrought-iron gates probably designed by the architect, it features charming and colourful Doulton ceramic panels by Bayes inspired by nursery rhymes.  Viewed in the west portion of Aldenham Street  — at St Michael’s block — are examples of Bayes’s delightful ceramic finials, adding a colourful decorative flourish to the concrete washing line posts in the drying areas.

For Broadcasting House in Langham Place, its façade embellished by the daring sculptures of Eric Gill, Jacob Epstein and others,[4] Bayes was engaged in 1932  to decorate its Concert Hall, now called the Radio Theatre  with relief panels of classic and modern subjects, poetry, dance and so on. Not far away, on the side façade of 17 Cavendish Square, are reliefs of 1924 featuring a children’s orchestra and symbolic figures of Science, Music and Art.

At Lords Cricket Ground in St John’s Wood is a jaunty stone frieze of 1934 of sportsmen and women entitled ‘Play Up! Play Up! and Play the Game’, a real period piece depicting 1930s clothing.

Lords
‘Play Up! Play Up! and Play the Game’

For Thomas Tait’s Royal Masonic Hospital in Hammersmith of 1933, which won a RIBA Gold Medal for the best building of the year, Bayes provided reliefs of Healing and Charity.

His many war memorials feature in London at the Royal Savoy Chapel, also a lectern, and in the Law Society and elsewhere in Todmorden, Hythe, Aldeburgh and Ramsgate; and further afield in Jerusalem and the Gold Coast.

London fire bridgae headquarters
One of the panels designed for the London Fire Brigade Headquarters on Albert Bank

If one can gain access to the exclusive Royal Automobile Club in Pall Mall one will find Bayes’s stylish Art Deco hero Segrave trophy within its very French interiors.

Michael is running a Gilbert Bayes tour in London for ADSUK on Saturday 9th of May 2020. Book your place here. 


For more information visit gilbertbayes.com

[1] Gilbert Bayes: Sculptor 1872-1953, by Paul Atterbury and Louise Irvine, with contributions by Peyton Skipwith, Philip Attwood, Michael Barker and Benedict Read; ISBN 0903685647, Richard Dennis, 1998.

[2] The Architectural Sculpture of Gilbert Bayes, Louis Irvine, The Journal of the Decorative Arts Society 1890-1940, No. 4 (1980)

[3] The statue displayed at the 1925 expo may be the actual one on permanent display at the HQ of the World Trade Organisation in Geneva. It was originally presented to the International Labour Organisation by a British Trades Union soon after the 1925 exhibition. The WTO’s booklet contains some good photographs of the work.

[4] See the society’s blog post Art Deco at the BBC

Edited by Adam Watson Brown

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