THEY were designed to to lift the spirits of an embattled nation in the dreary aftermath of the Second World War. But today, works of art by two of Yorkshire’s creative giants were elevated to the status of national treasures.
Sculptures by Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore were among a collection of statues to be given the same protection as historic buildings, with the bestowal of official listed status.
41 pieces, including three sculptures by Wakefield-born Hepworth, and a Henry Moore artwork outside the Houses of Parliament, have been protected on the advice of Historic England.
Hepworth, whose legacy is commemorated in a gallery named after her in her home city, originally said she created her now-listed Winged Figure, sited on the side of the John Lewis shop in London’s Oxford Street, to make people feel “airborne in rain and sunlight”.
The piece, like most of those now on the protected list, was intended to breathe life back into Britain’s public spaces in the age of post-war austerity.
Knife Edge, a statue by Castleford-born Henry Moore, whose work forms a large part of the permanent display at the nearby Yorkshire Sculpture Park, is also on the list.
Most of the newly-protected sculptures have been listed at Grade II or Grade II*, which are designated as “particularly important of more than special interest” and “warranting every effort to preserve them”.
Also included is Untitled (Listening), the first sculpture by Sir Antony Gormley. Installed in Camden, London, it was one of his earliest public sculpture commissions and marked the beginning of a career dedicated to creating pieces for the public.
Among the more unusual works to be listed is William George Mitchell’s relief sculpture, The Story of Wool, which surrounds the International Wool Secretariat building in Ilkley.
The artwork was the first he made using bronze-faced glass fibre, and is considered a hidden gem, its tucked-away location on Valley Drive far removed from the tourist trail.
Roger Bowdler, director of listing at Historic England, said: “These sculptures were commissioned and created for everybody and have become a precious national collection of art which we can all share. They enrich our lives, bring art to everyone and deserve celebration.
“We have worked with the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association, Tate, and the Twentieth Century Society throughout this project to ensure our most special public art is protected and continues to enhance our public spaces.”
Four of the newly-listed works are in Harlow, known as the “sculpture town”.
These include Wild Boar by Elisabeth Frink and a play sculpture of a bronze donkey by Willi Soukop, designed to help children interact with art, which is now worn to a shine from years of use.
The newly-listed pieces were created in the decades after the Second World War as England slowly began to repair its shattered towns and cities.
Capturing the public mood of the time and designed to humanise streets, housing estates and workplaces, they depict themes celebrating industry in northern England such as mining and wool and the importance of family and play. Some also commemorate children killed in the Blitz.
Through national exhibitions such as the 1951 Festival of Britain, public sculpture became an emblem of renewal, optimism and progress.
But some were unpopular at the time, seen as too unsettling or too avant-garde, and only now are starting to be more widely appreciated.
Heritage Minister Tracey Crouch said: “It is only right that these fantastic pieces are listed. Not only are they magnificent sculptures, but they are also an important part of our history, capturing the mood of Britain after the Second World War.”
Their stories will be told in an exhibition at Somerset House in London, running from February 3 to April 10.