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The Venus Fountain

A Grade II Listed Building in Royal Hospital, London

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Latitude: 51.4925 / 51°29'33"N

Longitude: -0.1577 / 0°9'27"W

OS Eastings: 527997

OS Northings: 178672

OS Grid: TQ279786

Mapcode National: GBR 8M.S4

Mapcode Global: VHGQZ.7R06

Plus Code: 9C3XFRVR+2W

Entry Name: The Venus Fountain

Listing Date: 22 August 2006

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1391739

English Heritage Legacy ID: 494459

Location: Royal Hospital, Kensington and Chelsea, London, SW1W

County: London

District: Kensington and Chelsea

Electoral Ward/Division: Royal Hospital

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Kensington and Chelsea

Traditional County: Middlesex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Greater London

Church of England Parish: Holy Trinity Sloane Square

Church of England Diocese: London

Tagged with: Fountain Sculpture

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249/0/10264 SLOANE SQUARE
22-AUG-06 The Venus Fountain

Fountain, 1953, by Gilbert Ledward R.A. (1888-1960). The Venus Fountain in Sloane Square consists of the kneeling figure of Venus in bronze holding a vase and pouring water from a conch shell, surmounting a large bronze vase-shaped basin, which sits on a narrow three step stone base within an octagonal stone pool lined with blue ceramic tiles. The Venus depicted here is correctly proportioned, she is seen in a classical pose and has a classical purity of line, but reference is also made to the exotic 'Balinese type' figures being depicted in sculpture in the interwar period.

The basin is decorated with a relief depicting Charles II and Nell Gwynn seated by the Thames. Charles II picks fruit from a tree, whilst Nell Gwynn fans herself. An impish cupid sits nearby with two arrows ready, a deer and hound run in the background, and a swan swims by on the Thames.

The inscription around the top of the basin reads, "Sweet Thames run softly, till I end my song", from 'Prothalamion' by Edmund Spenser (1552-1599). The poem was a spousal verse written to honour a double marriage, the title meaning a song preceding the marriage ceremony. The Kings Road was built during Charles II's reign, and to the west, was the house where his mistress stayed on occasion. Catherine Moriarty in her recent book on the sculpture of Ledward writes, "Ledward felt it was not inappropriate that his fountain, a fountain to lovers, should be placed on the route that the King and his mistress 'must have traversed so often" (p.92).

The inscription at the bottom of the basin reads: 'GLIBERT LEDWARD RA 1952', and beneath this, 'PRESENTED BY THE ROYAL ACADEMY OF ARTS THROUGH THE LEIGHTON FUND'.

HISTORY: Gilbert Ledward is one of perhaps an almost forgotten generation of C20 sculptors. Born in Chelsea, he began training as a sculptor at the Royal College of Art in 1905, where he studied under Edouard Lanteri. His fellow students included Charles Sargeant Jagger, Charles Wheeler and William McMillan, a generation who were to occupy a transitory position between the late C19 New Sculptors and the C20 modernists, such as Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth.

The fountain was due to be ready for the coronation, but problems over instalment prevented this. The fountain was inaugurated by Sir Gerald Kelly, President of the Royal Academy, in October 1953, and was funded by the Royal Academy Leighton Fund.

SUMMARY OF IMPORTANCE: The Venus Fountain, Sloane Square, is of special interest as a beautifully executed sculptural piece by the prominent C20 sculptor Gilbert Ledward. It comprises a bronze kneeling Venus which references both the classical and 'exotic' nude, upon a bronze vase shaped basin decorated with a whimsical relief of Charles II and Nell Gwynn. The fountain has local connections and the precedent has already been set for the listing of such fountains from the immediate pre and post-war period.

SOURCES: www.DNB (Dictionary of National Biography, 29.09.05)
C. Moriarty, 'The Sculpture of Gilbert Ledward', Henry Moore Foundation (2003)
Gilbert Ledward RA PRBS 1888-1960: Drawings for Sculpture, A Centenary Tribute, The Fine Art Society (1988)

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