Academic journal article The Sculpture Journal

Alfred Hardiman, RA, and the Vicissitudes of Public Sculpture in Mid-Twentieth-Century Britain

Academic journal article The Sculpture Journal

Alfred Hardiman, RA, and the Vicissitudes of Public Sculpture in Mid-Twentieth-Century Britain

Article excerpt

In August 1929 The Listener ran its first editorial on contemporary British art.1 'Sculpture and Taste' focused not, as might have been expected, on the aesthetic merits of recent work by Jacob Epstein (1880-1959) or Henry Moore (1898-1986), but on Alfred Hardiman's newly revealed model for his equestrian monument to Field Marshal Earl Haig. According to the Editor, sustained public interest in sculpture was a very recent phenomenon; nonetheless, 'experience in other public services, including broadcasting, has shown that it is not wise to run too far ahead of the accepted standards of taste'.2 Positioned roughly halfway through Hardiman's exhibiting career, it is the decade-long history of this controversial memorial for which the sculptor is best known, with the result that critical focus on a single marathon project and its reception has tended to obscure his other achievements. Although Hardiman's public sculpture is prominently sited in Edinburgh, Norwich and several locations of historic significance across London, notably Westminster Abbey, County Hall, St James's Piccadilly and Eltham Palace, so far there is no account of his complete work nor of how policies pertaining to the public realm affected the nature and extent of the work that has come down to us.

The first half of Hardiman's career was a steady rise to art world success and widespread acclaim, culminating in what was at the time the most prestigious commission available for a public artist, Haig's memorial. In 1928 Hardiman had been one of twenty sculptors chosen to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale, and in 1929 he had three works in the exhibition of Contemporary British Art from the Edward Marsh collection at the Whitechapel Gallery in London.3 He was also a regular exhibitor at the Royal Academy where he was admired for his architectural sensibility and his craftsmanship and, in portraiture, for his ability to marry the essence of a likeness with pared-down design. The late 1930s and 1940s, however, were much more problematic, revealing the vulnerability of a public sculptor to events and institutions over which he had little or no control, even when his relationships with architect colleagues were consistently good and he had fulfilled the terms of a commission to the letter. This article traces the disparate histories of Hardiman's sculpture and its reception, from early private commissions that are now publicly on view, to later projects undertaken for local authorities, the state and the Church of England, and considers issues that include, but go well beyond, 'sculpture and taste'. The son of a master silversmith based in Highbury, north London, Alfred Hardiman (1891-1949) was a typical beneficiary of recent changes in legislation designed to encourage good design, notably the Technical Instruction Act of 1889 by which county councils could raise money (in part from a tax on whisky) to fund students in technical and manual subjects, and the 1902 Education Act whereby these same county councils became responsible for running mechanics' institutes and polytechnics.4 Hardiman came to art by an indirect route. While working as an engineering draughtsman for the Aston Construction Company, he registered as a part-time student at the North London Polytechnic Institute where in 1911 he joined the modelling class of the sculptor Charles Hartwell (1873-1951).5 Four years later, aged 21, Hardiman strengthened his relationship with the newly empowered local authorities by winning a three-year London County Council scholarship to the Royal College of Art, where among his contemporaries were the future president of the Royal Academy and a lifelong friend, Charles Wheeler (1892-1974), Gilbert Ledward (1888-1960) and Charles Sargeant Jagger (1885-1934). At the nearby Victoria and Albert Museum, Rodin's gift of 18 sculptures was on display in 1914, and in 1915 the first solo exhibition by a living artist, Ivan Mestrovic (1883-1962), took place there; both of these sculptors would exert a marked influence on Hardiman's own work during the 1920s. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.