Two sunbathers have appeared in Waterloo station – and they tell a story of a lost sculpture, discovery, restoration, and return.
The Sunbathers by the Hungarian-born artist Peter Laszlo Peri was created for the Festival of Britain in 1951, and shows two adult figures looking into the distance, and originally was mounted on the wall at York Road, close to Waterloo station’s entrance.
Removed after the Festival closed, it was presumed that they were until it was rediscovered in 2016 at the Clarendon Hotel in Blackheath after a public plea from Historic England for lost artworks. It turned out the sculpture had been in their garden ever since they were bought following the Festival by the family that now owns the hotel.
Having been used as a plaything, they were in a pretty poor state, but a fundraising appeal managed to raise £15,000 in less than a week to restore them.
Following restoration, they put back on public display in 2017 at the Southbank Centre.
They’ve now been given a 5-year display inside Waterloo station, up on the mezzanine space. The new site is better not just because more people will see them, but they are also now closer to the (now demolished) wall that they were mounted on during the Festival of Britain
The figures – made from ‘Pericrete’ which is a special kind of concrete created by the artist as a cheaper alternative to casting in bronze, but looks like terracotta in the final effect. The terracotta-coloured sculpture now sits well on the stone column, surrounded by terracotta bricks.
Today they look upwards at an empty crest in the stonework, but originally they looked up to a walkway that people peered over to look down at – people looking down as art looked up.
Network Rail chair Sir Peter Hendy, CBE indicated that Network Rail is keen to have more art inside stations, saying at the unveiling that “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.”