Festival of Britain sculpture returns to London Waterloo: Sunbathers- over Waterloo 2

Monday 24 Aug 2020

Festival of Britain sculpture returns to London Waterloo

Region & Route:
Southern: Wessex

A “lost” sculpture originally created for the Festival of Britain is coming back to London Waterloo station after almost 70 years, thanks to Network Rail and Historic England.

The Sunbathers by the Hungarian-born artist Peter Laszlo Peri consists of two terracotta figures and was created for the Festival of Britain in 1951.

The sculpture greeted festival visitors when they arrived as it was mounted on the wall at York Road, close to the station’s entrance. It was presumed lost until it was rediscovered in 2016 at a London hotel owned by the O’Donnell family after a public plea from Historic England.

The figures –  made from ‘Pericrete’ which is a special kind of concrete created  by the artist as a cheaper alternative to casting in bronze. The Sunbathers were restored and put back on public display in 2017 at London’s Southbank Centre.

The sculpture was unveiled this morning (24 August) by Network Rail chair Sir Peter Hendy, CBE at London Waterloo station where it will stay for five years for passengers to enjoy.

Sir Peter Hendy CBE, Network Rail Chair, said: “It is wonderful to see the sculpture on public display again, almost 70 years after the Festival of Britain, and only a few yards away from its original site.

“Now, and in the future, millions of rail passengers will have the opportunity to see it, as they use the busiest station in Britain.

 “We look forward to working with Historic England, and other partners around the UK, to display art and sculpture in our stations, improving the quality of our public spaces for passengers and public alike.”

Duncan Wilson, Historic England chief executive, said: “We are delighted that Peter Laszlo Peri’s The Sunbathers will be on public show through their installation at Waterloo station, very close to their original site.

The Sunbathers have a longstanding connection to the area, so we are grateful for our partners at Network Rail for facilitating the move. We hope it enables a wide variety of people to see and enjoy this modern masterpiece.”

Josephine O’Donnell, whose family bought the statue and is the current owner of the Clarendon Hotel, said: “The sunbathers has been in our family since they left their original place at Waterloo station.  

“Having brothers who were much older than me, I used to play around the sunbathers as a small child, calling them my friends Adam and Eve. It is a fine way to continue their story to see them take pride of place at Waterloo.”

The Sunbathers was part of the 1951 Festival of Britain on London’s Southbank. The event was a national celebration that inspired a whole generation, showcasing the best in art, design, craft and sport.

Notes to editors

In 2016, the sculpture was found at the Clarendon hotel in Blackheath following a successful Historic England campaign, and in 2017 it was restored and installed at the Royal Festival Hall in the Southbank Centre.

Notes to Editors

Captions for Sunbathers 3 - Network Rail chair Sir Peter Hendy unveiling The Sunbathers at London Waterloo Station

Sunbather 4 -  (from L-R) Andrew Haines, Network Rail chief executive, Sir Peter Hendy, Network Rail chair and Duncan Wilson, Historic England chief executive admiring The Sunbathers.


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Martin Spencer

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