There’s an abstract sculpture to the Polish composer and pianist, Frédéric Chopin outside the Royal Festival Hall, but on the side where it’s not that obvious to spot.
It’s also had an interesting journey to get there.
The idea for the statue came from Professor Stefania Niekrasz, president of the Association of Polish Musicians Abroad, who wanted to see a statue of Chopin erected in London as the composer twice lived in the city. To raise awareness, Professor Niekrasz would arrange commemoration recitals, including once in Guildhall, the site of Chopin’s last ever public performance.
A number of attempts to commission a sculpture failed, once because the sculptor died before he could start work, and other times because a location couldn’t be found.
In the end in 1969 an agreement was made for a sculpture to be erected outside the Royal Festival Hall, but was to take several more years to raise the £9,000 that was needed.
According to the Chelsea News and General Advertiser, a committee was set up in 1971 to help raise funds, and musicians in Poland agreed to help fund it, but only if the sculpture was made in Poland by a Polish artist.
Although not originally intended this way, it was in the end offered as a gift by the Polish people to the British for their efforts during WW2, so it’s officially a war memorial as well as a commemoration to music.
The Chopin memorial sculpture, by Bronislaw Kubica was unveiled on the South Bank opposite the Hayward Gallery by Princess Alice in Febraury 1975. Sadly, Professor Niekrasz died two years earlier, but she would have known the project was nearing completion and London would finally have its commemoration.
Following the unveiling, pianist Alexander Ardakov gave a Chopin recital in front of 400 guests in the Purcell Room.
The sculpture was removed in the mid-1980s when the Royal Festival Hall was renovated, but it managed to stay in storage afterwards and it took a campaign to find it and have it restored to public viewing again.
The sculpture was unveiled in its current location by the Duke of Gloucester in May 2011.
Something else though that’s not obvious is that inside the base of the plinth, there’s a small silver urn containing soil from Poland.