London Ramblings #3: The Silhouettes of January

Dear Reader(s),

How have you been since my last missive? Time flies and I can’t believe we’ve already come to the end of January … yet again! The older I get (sigh) the more I believe our perception of time changes and perhaps, in a nod to my blog’s name, I should take a cue from Proust?

With preparations for my upcoming guiding exam at the National Portrait Gallery going full steam ahead (think Anna Karenina!), January, cruel month of many broken resolutions, has certainly kept me busy. However, let me immediately reassure you, gentle reader(s), there have been plenty of opportunities for fun too, including the running of my regular tours as well as gathering new material for this blog.

While wandering the city in search of inspiration and cake (I have a valid reason for this quest as a macarons-themed walk is in the works), the fickle weather has allowed me to see some of London’s most’s famous sculptures masquerading as gigantic silhouettes.

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The haunting silhouette of Diana, the Goddess of the Hunt, in Green Park.

A meeting point for many tour guides in Green Park, Estcourt J. Clack’s statue depicts Diana, the Roman Goddess of the Hunt, as a nimble huntress accompanied by one of her faithful hounds (of love?). Formally known as Diana, Goddess of the Chase, this sculpture was first presented to the public in 1954. With the slowly disappearing sun shining on her back, this silhouetted ‘version’ of Diana emphasizes her lithe body, her dramatic hand gesture as well as the whip (?) that she seems to be carrying with her.

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The gilding of the flowers is a recent addition to Clack’s sculpture.

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Full view of Diana’s silhouette – the pedestal adds a sense of movement.

As much as I like the ‘original’ version of Diana, I must admit I find the silhouette of the statue much more striking and powerful. While this doesn’t necessarily reflect how Clack intended his sculpture to be seen, it underlines how works of arts have a life of their own, especially when they are facing the elements of such a temperamental city as London. If you’d like to know more about the history of the statue itself, I recommend you have a look @PeteBSW1‘s excellent blog post on the topic. (Even the daughter of the artist left a comment, so make sure to read those too!)

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There must be days when Admiral Nelson feels lonely up there, no?

Standing high on top of a Corinthian column, the iconic statue of Lord Horatio Nelson has been looking down upon Londoners for over 170 years. Made by E. H. Baily in 1843, this sculpture towers over Trafalgar Square – arguably the epicentre of the Big Smoke – and commemorates Britain’s most recognized naval hero. His gaze forever fixed down Whitehall, the silhouette of Lady Emma Hamilton‘s infamous paramore suggests a certain rigidity and dignity of character, making it thus a fitting tribute.

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Trafalgar Square photographed from inside the National Gallery.

While taking these photographs from the balcony of the National Gallery, I kept wondering about the etymology of the word ‘silhouette’. While I knew the word to be of Gallic origins, I didn’t realize the term was actually an eponym once used to ridicule a French minister. Of course, Wikipedia, our (not-always-so) trustworthy friend quickly came to my rescue:

The word “silhouette” derives from the name of ร‰tienne de Silhouette, a French finance minister who, in 1759, was forced by France’s credit crisis during the Seven Years War to impose severe economic demands upon the French people, particularly the wealthy. Because of de Silhouette’s austere economies, his name became synonymous with anything done or made cheaply and so with these outline portraits.ย  Prior to the advent of photography, silhouette profiles cut from black card were the cheapest way of recording a person’s appearance.

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Nelson’s Column with Big Ben, pardon me, Elizabeth Tower in the background.

Well, if this story doesn’t make for a nice bit of trivia or pub quiz question, I don’t know what possibly could. Hands up, readers, who of you had heard about this before? I can’t believe you didn’t tell me and kept me in the dark on this one! I suspect @theframeblog might have had an inkling … (Oh dear, the mention of the War of Seven Years in the quoted text above takes me right back to William Pitt and The Death of the Earl of Chatham, a history painting which is going to be featured in my exam. Help, I need an intervention!)

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The majestic Quadriga on top of Wellington Arch, with a doctored backdrop.

Towering over all of Hyde Park Corner, Wellington Arch‘s triumphant Quadriga, which depicts the Angel of Peace descending upon earth on the four-horsed Chariot of War, has become one of London’s most recognisable landmarks. Installed in 1913, the work of Adrian Jones is considered to be largest equestrian figure as well as the largest bronze sculpture in Europe. (Two records for the price of one, I suppose!) From Berlin’s Brandenburger Tor to Venice’s Four Horses of St. Mark, every metropolis worth its salt has a quadriga of its own and London’s version is certainly very impressive too.

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Peace after the storm: the clouds add a certain dramatic flair to Wellington Arch.

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The Quadriga always makes me think of the title sequence of Damages ! Anyone?

A couple of weeks ago, @FranPickering, @GWinLondon, @Mandyist, @LondonSlant and I met up to go seeย Almost Lost: London’s Buildings Loved & Loathed together. Organised by English Heritage and hosted by the Quadriga Gallery, this exhibition examined how London might have looked like if certain developers hadn’t been stopped in the past. (The most ridiculous-yet-incredible scheme we saw was what can best be described as a 1954 post-apocalyptic pseudo-Venice perched on top of Soho. Yes, I’m not making this up and you can judge it for yourself over at the Londonist!)

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While not a silhouette, I couldn’t resist including this stunning view of the statue!

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Getting up close and personal with the hooves of the Quadriga’s four horses.

Well, this brings us to the end of this silhouetted view of London as I must get back to my exam revisions. One of my not-yet broken resolutions has been to try to blog more frequently this year, so hopefully I shall be able to keep that promise.

I’ll be back next month to write about my Christmas visit to Luxembourg and entertain you with tales about Europe’s smallest country. Oh boy … (@FranPickering shall be pleased as she has rather funnily challenged me to blog about this trip to the homeland, but I shall keep that story for next time. #tease. By the way, February will see Fran release her first detective novel, The Cherry Blossom Murder, which is, as you would expect from her, set in Japan.)

Take care and see you soon,

y.

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13 thoughts on “London Ramblings #3: The Silhouettes of January

    • Hi Emma,

      Thank you very much for your kind comment!

      I’m always glad to hear you approve of my blog posts, especially as you are the one who got me started in the first place! ๐Ÿ™‚

      Take care,

      y.

    • Hello there!

      Yes, I tend to dabble in macarons-making from time to time! ๐Ÿ™‚ Who knows? Maybe one day I will do some for my blog readers!

      Thank you for your lovely comment.

      Take care,

      y.

    • Hi Tina,

      Thank you very much for the comment. I’m very glad to hear you enjoyed the photographs.

      Yes, I rather do like my rather dramatic Anna K. reference. There’s nothing like a good train station …

      Take care,

      y.

  1. I love the photos of Diana and Nelson Column in silhouette! It is really interesting how you say that this is not how artists intended the work to be seen. That is so true and I guess there was many a day when the artists viewed their work in bright sunlight to best get an idea of how it looked.I definitely prefer the Diana in silhouette, I might walk past it otherwise.

    • Hi Mandy,

      Thanks a lot for your kind comment – it was great fun taking the pictures although it ended up being more a case of being at the right place at the right moment! Isn’t that a nice simile to life, anyway? Oh dear, I’m feeling philosophical now and I blame you for this now … ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Yes, I find it an interesting notion too how artwork seems to have a life of their own. Once the artist ‘parent’ has released them onto the world, they have to fend for themselves and make they are own way through the world. I agree with you re: the Diana statue. While fairly beautiful, I much prefer the silhouette version as well!

      Take care and see you soon,

      y.

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