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The Glorious Dead ~ Figurative Sculpture of British First World War Memorials

The Glorious Dead, collage of pictures( Geoff Archer) front cover

 

The Glorious Dead ~ Figurative Sculpture of British First World War Memorials
Geoff Archer
416pp, 260 illus (mono), p/b, Nov 2009
ISBN: 978-1-872914-38-1. £30

Certain events are so momentous that nobody can at first fully comprehend. This was true when attempting to assess the terrible war of 1914-18, but also of the period afterwards, when the people of Britain tried to come to terms with how to remember their dead. In most places the answer was through an inert obelisk, cross or slab, but in larger towns the decision was made to impart remembrance through figurative sculpture. It is the largest input of public sculpture Britain has ever known.

The Glorious Dead presents the viewer with the sculptor’s task, naming the variety of ideas, emotions and motives and how they all translated into imagery fit for the town square and the carved list of names. Looking at hundreds of pictures, one memorial shows a dead body under a sheet, another has a tommy with a bayonet at the ready; here the figure of winged Victory towers above our heads while elsewhere mothers and daughters in metal and stone weep for evermore. Why the differences? And why has there never been an art explanation until now?

Geoff Archer is an art teacher and practising painter who took over ten years to research sculpture associated with Britain’s 1st World War Memorials. His book opens with images of volunteers leaving home. Then follows ‘The Realities of War’, where we see sculpted machines and trenches as in CS Jagger’s Artillery Memorial. The last part, ‘Remembering’, has figures of ‘Peace’, ‘Victory’, or ‘Honour’’ and in a rare statue in Skipton, John Cassidy’s allegory of youth breaks a sword over his knee. The photos, mostly those of the author, not only illustrate the text but stand alone as art images.

The author notes the ‘critical dismissal’ of memorial sculpture but seeks out certain WW1 memorial figures which stand comparison with the best public sculpture anywhere. In fact, while already acknowledged masters such as Frampton, Toft and Drury designed memorials, there were others like Jagger and Ledward who made their reputations with them in the 1920s. We also hear of less known sculptors such as John Angel, A.Carrick, Walter Gilbert, Louis Roslyn and Hermon Cawthra.

Women are shown not just as mothers and daughters of the slain, but also as nurses, munitions workers, even goddesses and angels. Add to this the importance of women in decision making and fund raising for memorials, the temporary suspension of Suffragism and the fact that some of the sculptors were women. To name a few these were Phyllis Bone, Jennifer Delahunt and Kathleen Scott.

Geoff Archer has filled a missing gap in 20th century sculpture studies, redeeming the war memorial sculpture of the 1920s to the canon of British art history. To open his book is an initiation.

 

Published with the assistance of the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art
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Link
Also see link (LINKS PAGE) to 'Writing' on www.geoffarcher.co.uk

~ Responses, reviews and recommendations

" In short, Archer is celebrating the last great flourishing of figurative British sculpture. His account is exhaustive, rich in detail and anecdote,taking his subject in all aspects of its imagery ó the Pals battalions that marched away; the women they left behind;the trenches; the sacrifice; the narrative of war; the grief. With its many photographs and copious appendices, the book is a wonderful gazetteer for those of us already hooked, to be put in the car on our travels around the country".
William Packer, THE TIMES,12/12/09

 

"How impressive this book is. It is a very powerful subject, and the thoroughness of your study does it great justice. It is so much more engaging than any earlier study of war memorials - there is an awful lot to go and see. Thanks very much for bringing it to publication".
Roger Bowdler, English Heritage

"My love of three-dimensional art has now been totally stimulated by this superb and magnificently illustrated book showing the wonderful figurative imagery produced by British sculptors. The information contained in this work is outstanding and I have waited years for such a comprehensive and fascinating piece of writing accompanied by so many photographs. Once you start reading this book, it is difficult to put down - one does need a comfortable chair and a good book rest (yes, it is quite heavy). The bibliography and appendices are brilliant - so important for research and for the non-academic who wants more information about individual works. Geoff Archer has set himself a task to answer questions about how, why and by whom these sculptures were produced - his book has gone a long way to provide the answers. I commend this book in its entirety. It is a must for every person interested in the conflict and the aftermath of the First World War".
David Cohen/ WFA Bulletin

"There are many hundreds of statues in cities, towns and villages around the countryerected in the years immediately after 1918 as memorials to 'the glorious dead'. Often these took the form of simple, unadorned stone crosses. But in many other cases a grateful citizenry dug into its pockets to pay for something more elaborate to honour their sons, fathers and friends. The result - as a fascinating new book by art historian Geoff Archer cataloguing them for the first time points out - was the greatest project of public art this country has ever known".
Extracted from Tony Rennelís feature in the DAILY MAIL, 6/11/09


 

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