Based in London; Formerly of New York, Buenos Aires, Fife, and the Western Cape. Saoránach d'Éirinn.
A writer, blogger, historian, and web designer born in New York, educated in Argentina, Scotland, and South Africa, and now based in London. read more

Physical Energy

I came across it by surprise one day, walking through the park. It was almost eerie — all the more so for being unexpected. George Frederic Watts’s sculpture “Physical Energy” was well known to me when I lived in South Africa as it graces the Rhodes Memorial in Cape Town — a rough Greek temple staring out northwards into the vast continent of Africa, as Rhodes himself liked to do.

Unknown to me, another cast of the statue was made and given to the British government, which placed it in Kensington Gardens. It was this copy I stumbled upon while traversing the park to Lily H’s drinks party in the garden of Leinster Square.

It is one of the most aptly named sculptures I can think of, as there is a raw brutish physicality to it, and somehow a sense of tremendous force, power, and energy. Watts was primarily a painter, so that he achieved this great work of sculpture is all the more remarkable. I don’t actually like it: there is something uncomforting and almost vulgar about it, or perhaps just taboo. (Like Rhodes himself.) But it is amazing all the same.

While “Physical Energy” is primarily associated with Cecil Rhodes it was not commissioned in his honour. Watts conceived it in 1886 after having done an equestrian statue for the Duke of Westminster. The first cast wasn’t made until 1902 and was exhibited at the Royal Academy for the first time in 1904 (above).

From there it made its way to Cape Town where it stands today a vital component of the monument to Rhodes. (It even features as the crest on Rhodes University’s coat of arms.) The second cast from 1907 is this one that sits in Kensington Gardens, while a third cast from 1959 now sits beside the National Archives of Zimbabwe in Harare.

This year the Watts Gallery in Surrey commissioned a fourth cast to commemorate the two-hundredth anniversary of the artist’s birth — and that cast now flaunts its bronze in the courtyard of the Royal Academy. It remains on view until the Cusackian birthday in March 2018.

This post was published on Wednesday, December 6th, 2017 11:35 am. It has been categorised under Art and been tagged under , , , .
Jovan Weismiller
7 Dec 2017 4:59 pm

Fascinating! The obvious rough texture, unexpected on an equestrian statue, adds to the impression of brute force or ‘physical energy’.

Dave Cooper
16 Dec 2017 2:54 pm

As you might know, the third cast of the work now at Harare (Salisbury) Zimbabwe (Southern Rhodesia) was originally at Lusaka in Zambia (Northern Rhodesia). The Wikipedia article claims that this bronze cast was made from the gesso model. If you are curious, see the article for more details about differences.

With my family, I passed this statue many times when we travelled from our home at Nkana-Kitwe on the Copperbelt (near the frontier with the Belgian Congo)to points south of Lusaka (such as Livingstone, the Victoria Falls, Kariba, Southern Rhodesia, Bechuanaland and South Africa). It stood in front of the High Court Building at Lusaka.

I visited the cast at Cape Town recently and I wondered how « Bob » (Mugabe) and his « comrades » were treating the brother at Harare … I can only imagine!

Groete …

Volksrepubliek van Limburgië

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