Belfast Telegraph

Festival Of Britain sculpture is back on display

The sculpture was missing, presumed destroyed, for decades.

A Festival Of Britain sculpture of two sunbathers thought to have been lost is back on display after it was discovered at a hotel garden.

The Sunbathers went missing after it was shown on the wall of an entrance to Waterloo station for the 1951 Festival.

Like other works commissioned for the event, it was not known whether it was destroyed or sold.

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The Sunbathers sculpture on display at the Southbank Centre, Royal Festival Hall in London (Victoria Jones/PA)

It was rediscovered, broken and painted a pale pink, in the grounds of a south-east London hotel after Historic England highlighted the many pieces of lost public art.

More than £22,000 was raised to help restore Hungarian artist Peter Laszlo Peri’s post-war sculpture following a successful crowdfunding campaign.

Layers of paint have now been stripped back to reveal the original, sun-kissed terracotta colour the artist intended.

The artist’s daughter, Ann MacIntyre, said it was “astonishing” to see the sculpture at the Royal Festival Hall, which was built as part of the Festival.

“I thought that after the Festival Of Britain it got destroyed and that that was the end of that,” she told the Press Association.

“It’s no good crying. You have to live with it. So it was just astonishing that it turned up,

“I didn’t believe it at first. I found it impossible to believe – how could it be so close and no-one had seen it? It’s brilliant.”

She added: “It brings my father nearer. He would have been be so pleased. He’d have been cross that it was lost to begin with.

“I just smile about it whenever I think about it. He wanted people to see art, ordinary people to have a chance  to understand what art was and not be put off.”

The figures are made from a special kind of concrete known as Peri-crete, invented by the artist as a cheaper alternative to casting in bronze.

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The Sunbathers (Victoria Jones/PA)

It was bought at auction in the 1950s by hotelier Joseph O’Donnell, who laid the figures, which were climbed over by children, on a patio in the gardens of his hotel in Blackheath, south-east London.

Shan Maclennan, deputy artistic director at the Southbank Centre, said of the discovery, by a member of the public: “It was broken and had been painted pink but had been the backdrop of many happy family occasions and weddings. It had been there all the time.

“It went underground for a while, almost literally, only to come back today looking as good as it did in 1951.”

:: The Sunbathers is open to the public inside the Royal Festival Hall as part of Southbank Centre’s Summertime programme. An afternoon of free activities inspired by The Sunbathers will take place on Southbank Centre’s terrace on Saturday July 29th.

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