25 September 2023

Barbara Hepworth’s
‘Winged Figure’ at
John Lewis’s flagship
store in Oxford Street

‘Winged Figure’ (1963) by Barbara Hepworth on the corner of the John Lewis store on Oxford Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

I have long accepted three good tips for seeing the beautiful, the unusual and the unexpected in London: walk instead of taking the Tube; keep your eyes open; and look up rather than down.

Walking rather than taking the Tube may add another 10 or 15 minutes to a journey, but usually no more in the long run, and the rewards can be delightful.

As two of us were strolling around Oxford Street and the West End recently, we found ourselves beneath ‘Winged Figure’, a 1963 sculpture by Barbara Hepworth on the corner of the John Lewis flagship store on Oxford Street. It has been described as ‘a sculpture of high artistic and aesthetic quality, possessing a universal beauty in its sense of fluid movement and dynamic spatial expression.’

Dame Jocelyn Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975) was a leading figure in the colony of artists who lived in St Ives, Cornwall. Her work exemplifies Modernism and in particular modern sculpture.

‘Winged Figure’ is one of Barbara Hepworth’s best-known works and it has been on public display for the last 60 years, since April 1963. It is mounted on the south-east side of the John Lewis department store, on the corner of Holles Street and Oxford Street.

The John Lewis shop on Oxford Street replaced an earlier war-damaged premises. The building was designed by architects Slater, Moberly & Uren in 1956 and reopened in 1961.

The idea of adorning the plain Portland stone side wall of the new shop with a sculpture had been advocated by John Spedan Lewis, son and successor of John Lewis, in 1951. Sir Jacob Epstein was first approached, but he was engaged on other works at the time and turned down the commission. By 1960 a suitable artist had still not been found.

In May 1961, John Lewis asked six other artists to propose designs. Barbara Hepworth’s breakthrough public sculpture, ‘Meridian’, had recently been installed outside State House on Holborn, and caught the eye of Bernard Miller, who by then had taken over from Spedan Lewis. The other sculptors approached at the time were Ralph Brown, Geoffrey Clarke, Tony Hollaway, Stefan Knapp, William Mitchell and Hans Tisdall. However, none of their initial designs was accepted.

Hepworth had been asked to express ‘the idea of common ownership and common interests in a partnership of thousands of workers.’ In October 1961, she had proposed a different design, ‘Three Forms in Echelon’, but John Lewis rejected that. One of 10 bronze maquettes of ‘Three Forms in Echelon’ cast in 1965 is now in the Tate Gallery.

Her second proposal, based on an enlargement of her 1957 sculpture ‘Winged Figure I’, was accepted. Related sculptures by Barbara Hepworth, such as ‘Stringed Figure (Curlew)’ and ‘Orpheus’, were also made in sheet metal with rods.

The work is 5.8 metres (19 ft) high. It resembles a boat’s hull, with two wide asymmetric wings like blades rising from a small plinth, curving towards each other and linked to each other by a series of radial rods like strings that almost cross at a single point in the middle of the sculpture.

‘Winged Figure’ is the first sculpture Barbara Hepworth created in her Palais de Danse studio in St Ives. She made a prototype in 1962 in wood and then aluminium in St Ives, made from lengths of aluminium covered with aluminium sheets and linked by ten aluminium rods. The surface of the prototype was then textured with Isopon, a polyester resin filler.

The aluminium prototype – the largest prototype by Barbara Hepworth that is still in existence – is now in the Hepworth Museum in Wakefield, Yorkshire, where she was born.

The main body of the final work was cast in aluminium by the founders Morris Singer in Walthamstow, with the rods replaced by stainless steel. It was installed on the John Lewis building on Sunday 21 April 1963, on a plinth 4 metres (13 ft) above the footpath.

Hepworth summarised her ambitions for the project: ‘I think one of our universal dreams is to move in air and water without the resistance of our human legs, I wanted to evoke this sensation of freedom. If the ‘Winged Figure’ in Oxford Street gives people a sense of being air-borne in rain and sunlight and nightlight I will be very happy. It is a project I have long wished to fulfil and this site with its wonderful oblique wall was quite perfect.’

‘Winged Figure’ was refurbished for its 50th anniversary in 2013. ‘Winged Figure’ was given Grade II* listing in January 2016. The sculpture, its plinth, and the applied raised lettering beneath it, form part of the listing.

The listing says the piece ‘has become an Oxford Street landmark, inextricably associated with the John Lewis store’ and ‘it demonstrates the potential for art to enhance the built environment and become ingrained into a collective sense of place.’

It is said that about 200 million people see this sculpture each year. So, perhaps, I am just one in 200 people walking along Oxford Street, keeping my eyes open, and looking up rather than down.

‘Winged Figure’ by Barbara Hepworth ‘has become an Oxford Street landmark, inextricably associated with the John Lewis store’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (120) 25 September 2023

Saint Michael’s Church, Pery Square … a vibrant Anglican presence in the heart of Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

We are in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar, and this week began with the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity XVI, 24 September 2023). Today is Yom Kippur, the solemn day of repetance and fasting in the Jewish calendar. It began at sunset last night (24 September 2023), when the evening service in synagogues began with Kol Nidre, and it ends at nightfall this evening (25 September).

The Calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship today (25 September) remembers the lives and witness of Lancelot Andrewes (1626), Bishop of Winchester and Spiritual Writer, and Sergei of Radonezh (1392), Russian Monastic Reformer and Teacher of the Faith.

Before the day gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for prayer and reflection.

Later this week, the Church celebrates Saint Michael and All Angels (29 September). So my reflections each morning this week and next are taking this format:

1, A reflection on a church named after Saint Michael or his depiction in Church Art;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

The East Window in Saint Michael’s Church, Limerick, brings together the work of the Pain Brothers, the Fogerty family and the Mayer studios (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saint Michael’s Church, Pery Square, Limerick:

At one time, there was a large number of Church of Ireland parish churches in Limerick’s city centre. They included Saint George’s, Saint John’s, Saint Munchin’s, Saint Nicholas Church, and Trinity Episcopal Church. Although many of these buildings survive, today, apart from Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Saint Michael’s Church in Pery Square is the only working Anglican church in Limerick City.

Saint Michael’s Church, which is part of the cathedral group of parishes, is in the heart of Georgian Limerick. The church stands at the top of Barrington Street, at the south end of Pery Square, facing Saint Saviour’s Dominican Church at the opposite, north end. The original Neo-Georgian façades of Pery Square give balance to the urban composition of two similarly scaled and styled churches that enclose the vista of the street to the north and the south.

The Anglo-Normans probably built the first church in Limerick dedicated to Saint Michael the Archangel (feast day, 29 September). This church stood on an island where the Abbey River spreads out above Baal’s Bridge. From old maps and drawings, this island was between Englishtown and Irishtown. This area was outside the city gate called West Watergate.

Saint Michael’s is first referred to in the Black Book of Limerick in 1205. It was originally a prebendal church, but by 1418 it was attached to the Archdeaconry of Limerick. The church fell into disuse after the Reformation. By the early 17th century, it was in ruins, and it was totally dismantled at the time of Cromwell’s siege of 1651.

The present Saint Michael’s Church in Pery Square replaced an older church, Saint George’s Church on George’s Street, now O’Connell Street, which was built in 1789.

Between 1831 and the completion of Saint Michael’s Church in Pery Square, there was no Church of Ireland church in the Parish of Saint Michael except Trinity Church in Catherine Place, and some of the parishioners met in the Primitive Methodist Preaching House until 1843. This meant that the rector of the parish had the spiritual care of the parishioners but was without a church.

The walls of Saint Michael’s Church were built from the money received by the sales of Saint George’s Chapel. However, the Methodists gave notice in 1843 that they would withdraw the privilege granted to Saint Michael’s parishioners, and so an application was made to the Church Commissioners and a sum of money was granted to complete the church.

Saint Michael’s Church was designed around 1836 by the Limerick-based architect James Pain and his brother, George Richard Pain, and was built by William Wallace. The church was consecrated when it was completed in 1844. It was also known as ‘the sinking church’ as it was not built on bedrock and has sunk ever so slightly over the years. It is located at the end of Barrington Street and Pery Square.

The church was designed in a late Georgian Gothic Revival style, but was built in a simpler form than the original design and without the spire.

The site is much deeper than the street level, and this allowed the provision of a crypt beneath the building. The church has a north-facing limestone façade, comprising a three-stage tower with a crenallated parapet with corner and intermediate pinnacles. The tower is flanked by lancet windows and contains the main entrance.

The gates to the left of the church once led down to a number of tennis courts and recreation areas for the parish and the schoolmaster’s Victorian Gothic residence.

The windows of the church are pointed-arched openings with elaborate Gothic style tracery that mirrors the pointed-arched door openings.

Inside the church, plain plastered walls emphasise the unusual hammer beam roof structure with arch braces encased by tongued and grooved panelling. Originally, the church had galleries on three sides and could hold 2,000 people.

The interiors also include polished marble columns, limestone arches, stained glass windows and an encaustic tile floor in the nave aisle flanked by early box pews. The richly carved mahogany pulpit with Gothicised panelling was donated by Thomas Revington and made by Todds.

Joseph Fogerty & Son carried out improvements to the church in 1877, when the tower was raised and additional pinnacles were added, helping it to break forward from the façade.

As well as an extra stage to the tower, other additions at the time included a new forecourt and a new chancel. The new chancel was added at a cost of £2,000 by William and Robert Fogerty and the two side balconies were removed, reducing the seating capacity of the church to 800.

The East Window, which was designed by James Pain for Saint Mary’s Cathedral, was reduced in size to fill the space in new chancel area.

The church re-opened on 18 November 1877, and new stained glass, illustrating the Parables, was erected the following year [1878]. Further work was carried out by Charles W Harrison of Dublin in 1883 with the design of the mural monument in memory of Mrs Purdon Wilkinson.

A hall was built behind the church in 1980, further reducing the seating capacity to 600 and a new roof was erected in 1997.

Saint Michael’s was completely restored in 2013, and ten years later it continues to be a vibrant Anglican presence in the heart of Limerick.

Inside Saint Michael’s Church, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 8: 16-18 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 16 ‘No one after lighting a lamp hides it under a jar, or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light. 17 For nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light. 18 Then pay attention to how you listen; for to those who have, more will be given; and from those who do not have, even what they seem to have will be taken away.’

The Sower and the Seed … one of the parables depicted in the chancel window (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayer:

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘Flinging open the doors.’ This theme was introduced yesterday by the Revd Anthony Gyu-Yong Shim, Diocese of Daejeon, Korea.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (25 September 2023) invites us to pray:

As yesterday was National Maritime Day let us pray for ministries such as the Mission to Seafarers which offers spiritual support to those whose livelihoods are connected to the seas.

The Collect:

Lord God,
who gave to Lancelot Andrewes many gifts of your Holy Spirit,
making him a man of prayer and a pastor of your people:
perfect in us that which is lacking in your gifts,
of faith, to increase it,
of hope, to establish it,
of love, to kindle it,
that we may live in the light of your grace and glory;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post Communion Prayer:

God, shepherd of your people,
whose servant Lancelot Andrewes revealed the loving service of Christ
in his ministry as a pastor of your people:
by this Eucharist in which we share
awaken within us the love of Christ
and keep us faithful to our Christian calling;
through him who laid down his life for us,
but is alive and reigns with you, now and for ever.

The pulpit in Saint Michael’s Church, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Yesterday’s Reflection

Continued Tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

King David (left) and King Solomon (right) in a window in Saint Michael’s by Heaton, Butler and Bayne (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)