30 September 2023

The Orchestra of Child
Musicians and the Three
Graces are discreet delights
off Cavendish Square

The Orchestra of Child Musicians by the sculptor Gilbert William Bayes on the corner of Wigmore Street and Cavendish Square, London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

The sculptures of the Orchestra of Child Musicians and of the Three Graces, depicting Science, Music and Art, are amusing decorations on the Wigmore Street fa├žade at 17 Cavendish Square, London.

You might miss these figures as you walk around Cavendish Square or if you focussed on making your way from the busy corner with Wigmore Street to the Wigmore Hall. When I first saw the Three Graces and the Child Musicians, I imagined the figurative sculptural reliefs were in stucco and that they date from the Georgian development of these streets close to Oxford Street.

To my surprise, I learned that the putti orchestra and three female figures are, in fact, a 100-year-old 20th century pastiche in a Georgian style. They date from 1923-1924 and are the work of the sculptor Gilbert William Bayes (1872-1953), who used his usual concrete and not the stucco I expected.

The orchestra and female figures were created when John Brinsmead & Co converted 1 Wigmore Street into a showroom (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Cavendish Square was planned in 1717 as the centrepiece of the new Marylebone estate of Edward Harley, Earl of Oxford. The square is named after his wife, Lady Henrietta Cavendish Holles; they were married in 1713, and she inherited the Manor of Marylebone. Wigmore Street, which extends from Duke Street, Manchester Square, to the north-west corner of Cavendish Square, takes its name from Wigmore in Herefordshire, also owned by the Harley family.

Most of this area dates from the 18th century, and No 17 Cavendish Square dates from 1771. This three-storey over basement house, with a mansard and dormers, was altered ca 1800, when the windows were lengthened, and again in the early 20th century. Brown brick slate roof, on corner with Wigmore Street.

The blind return to Wigmore Street has a neo-Adam style pilaster treatment on the ground floor, with shallow relief modelled ‘graces’ between pairs of pilasters under an entablature, all in stucco or concrete.

The piano manufacturers John Brinsmead & Sons had been founded in 1837. When they went out of business around 1920-1922 after an acrimonious strike, they were bought out by their rivals Cramer and were re-established at 17 Cavendish Square in 1924.

The orchestra and three female figures date from that time, when the relocated John Brinsmead & Co converted the ground floor into a showroom and decided to make what had been the side of the house at 1 Wigmore Street into something grander.

The figurative sculptural reliefs facing Wigmore Street are concrete by Gilbert Bayes, who was almost a contemporary of Sir Jacob Epstein. His putti orchestra is, in fact, a 20th century pastiche of the Georgian style. Bayes used his usual concrete and not the stucco that many assume.

The lively cherubic musicians and the three rather solid allegorical graces representing Science, Music and Art, have been much whitewashed over during the past 100 years, resulting in the loss of some details of the work.

Gilbert William Bayes (1872-1953) was a sculptor whose works varied in scale from medals to large architectural clocks, monuments and equestrian statues. He was also a designer of some note, creating chess pieces, mirrors and cabinets.

He was associated with the New Sculpture movement and his work spans the Arts and Crafts movement, World War I, the Art Deco movement, World War II and beyond. His statues of the 1900s include slender-bodied nudes, often with turning, twisting poses and tending to the Art Nouveau rather than Arts and Crafts. His more statuesque female figures of the 1920s and 1930s often have a hard edged Art Deco look with a highly sculptured surface.

Much of his work is architectural sculpture, such as fountains, garden ornaments and smaller pieces with an element of decoration. Some of his works, especially his architectural friezes, have a story-book pictorial look, such as plump cherub or animals on the side of a building.

One of the Three Graces by Gilbert Bayes, who designed bold and colourful exterior decorations (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Bayes was born in Camden Town on 4 April 1872 into a family of artists. His father Alfred Walter Bayes was an established artist; he was a brother of the artist and critic Walter Bayes, and of the Arts and Crafts designer Jessie Bayes (1890-1970).

He first exhibited at the Royal Academy in London in 1889 at the age of 17. He studied at the City and Guilds of London Art School and then at the Royal Academy Schools (1896-1899), where he won a gold medal and a travelling scholarship to Paris. He received an honourable mention at the 1900 International Exhibition in Paris and several medals at the Paris Salon.

He won a gold medal and diploma of honour at the Exhibition of Decorative Art in 1925. His work was part of the sculpture event in the art competition at the 1928 Summer Olympics.

His best-known work is the richly ornamented Queen of Time (1928), a statue that supports the clock above the main entrance of Selfridge’s in Oxford Street.

Bayes also designed bold and colourful exterior decorations for the Sidney Street Estate by the St Pancras Housing Association, set up by Father Basil Jellicoe (1899-1935). Bayes decorated the courtyards and gardens with works of art and Doultonware ceramics, including ceramic finials to top the washing-line posts in a number of courtyards. Many of his finials symbolised episodes in the lives of saints, after whom buildings on the estates were named. The finials survived World War II undamaged, but many were stolen and the remaining 100 were put into storage.

His other works include decorative relief panels on the Fire Brigade building on the Albert Embankment, two figures on the front of the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Aesculapius and Hebe steles at the Royal Masonic Hospital, Ravenscroft Park, and a long frieze above the entrance to the cinema on Shaftsbury Avenue, close to Cambridge Circus.

Outside London, important allegorical groups by Bayes showing humanity through the ages are on the exterior of the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, and an Assyrian-style frieze is on the wall of the Masonic temple in Birmingham.

Bayes is best remembered for his interest in colour, his association with the Royal Doulton Company, and his work in polychrome ceramics and enamelled bronze. His 1939 major polychrome stonework frieze, ‘Pottery through the Ages’, at the Doulton Headquarters in Lambeth was removed in the 1960s when the building was razed. The 50 ft long work is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Bayes was president of the Royal British Society of Sculptors in 1939-1944. He died in hospital in Marylebone 70 years ago on 10 July 1953.

Gilbert Bayes was associated with the New Sculpture movement (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

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