A sculpture that has been missing for more than 60 years has been found and is now back on display at the Southbank Centre. The piece was designed and created by artist Peter Laszlo Peri, and was last seen displayed on an outside wall of Waterloo Station as part of the 1951 Festival of Britain.
It’s not known what happened to the statue, called The Sunbathers after the festival but it was one of a number of different artworks which disappeared at the time.
Finding the Sunbathers
The Sunbathers was discovered in the garden of a hotel in South East London following an awareness campaign from Historic England about the number of publicly owned artworks which had gone missing. In the interim period, The Sunbathers had been painted light pink and had become the backdrop to many photographs in weddings and other celebrations held in the hotel garden.
The Sunbathers was cast in Peri-crete, a material developed by the artist himself as a cheaper alternative to casting in bronze. Metal sculpture can suffer adverse effects if it spends a lot of time outside, with water, in particular, causing it to rust. The modern answer to this problem is Corten metal sculpture; that is artwork made from Cor-Ten steel which does rust, but only to provide an even and protective patina. Examples of Corten sculpture can be seen here: http://www.afsculpture.uk/scuplture-portfolio/corten-metal-sculptures.
Other lost artworks
Historic England is continuing its campaign to find the missing artworks of England. Details of more statues which have disappeared from public view can be found on its website – https://historicengland.org.uk/get-involved/protect/missing-public-art/. They include works by some of the last century’s most acclaimed artists such as Hepworth and Moore.
Although some of these artworks have been stolen and broken down for scrap, others likely still exist in different locations as The Sunbathers did, and can retake their place as part of the country’s heritage.
As for The Sunbathers, it will be displayed at the Southbank Centre after a crowdfunding campaign raised more than £20,000 to secure its future. The artist’s daughter said that her father would be pleased, as he always wanted his work to be shared with the public. He’d be pleased to know that the centre is hosting a day of events for the public based around the piece on the 29th of July.