London’s museums and galleries are brilliant: world class, beautiful, free and full of great art. But sometimes you want to find your art out in the real world, not in some stuffy, closed-in, airless building. Well, luckily for all of us, London also does a fine line in public sculpture. From giants of art history like Barbara Hepworth and Eduardo Paolozzi all the way through to a park filled with reptilian weirdos, London’s got it all.
We put together a shortlist of the best public sculptures in the city and then got you, the art-loving people, to vote on it. Stand by for the results...
When it came to educating the masses about wonderful scientific discoveries, the Victorians didn’t let little things like lack of data hamper them. Hence the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs. Charitably summed up, they’re an imaginative mish-mash of fact and fiction. More importantly, the world’s first dinosaur sculptures are survivors. And we love ’em.
Where can I see them? Hiding in the bushes of Crystal Palace Park.
This one-thirtieth scale replica of HMS Victory is a mini-history of colonialism in a bottle. The sail patterns are inspired by batik and Nelson was Britain’s greatest naval officer, a major builder of empire. Shonibare is showing us Londoners are a puzzle of many pieces.
Where can I see it? Sailing absolutely nowhere outside the National Maritime Museum.
This 35-metre-tall, upside-down monument is one of the city’s most striking artworks. A kind of surreal one-liner, Chinneck’s sculpture sits on brownfield land on the Greenwich Peninsula but will soon tower over the 15,000 new homes being built there. See it now before someone turns it into a flat.
Where can I see it? Soaring over London's south-east on the Greenwich Peninsula.
Babs was one of Britain’s leading modern sculptors, and her works are dotted all over London, but there’s something special about this one. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s plonked on the side of a department store, maybe it’s the sheer size of the thing. Regardless, it feels like an angel watching over the tourists of Oxford Street, protecting them from the tutting of sullen Londoners.
Where can I see it? Offering fashion advice from the wall of John Lewis, Oxford Street.
Landseer was a big deal back in the nineteenth century, famous for painting animals, including Prince Albert’s greyhound (not a euphemism). These lions are his crowning achievement: proud, noble, steely-gazed beasts guarding Nelson’s massive column (also not
a euphemism). They’re iconic yet they spend their lives being ridden by hundreds of Italian school kids. An ignominious end.
Where can I see them? Patrolling the mean streets of Trafalgar Square in central London.
Antony Gormley’s ‘Quantum Cloud’ peeks out over the Thames next to the Millennium Dome. Look closely and, nestled in all that steel, you’ll see a massive dude – just chilling. It’s a striking, clever and immense sculpture. Seriously, at 30 metres high, it’s taller than ‘Angel of the North’. Take that, Gateshead.
Where can I see it? Standing all tall and spiky next to The O2 in Greenwich.
What better candidate for a spot in the British Library’s courtyard than one of the great figures of the Enlightenment? But this tribute to Isaac Newton comes with a twist. Pop maestro Paolozzi lifted the hunched over posture and compass in hand straight from a print by Romantic artist William Blake – who was famously critical of Newton’s rationalist beliefs. Intellect versus passion, head versus heart: it’s all there just off the Euston Road.
Where can I see it? Deep in thought inside the courtyard of the British Library.
There are great sculptures all over the city, in public squares and important areas, but this absolutely gorgeous Henry Moore isn’t somewhere fancy, it’s smack dab in the middle of a housing estate. Moore redefined modernist sculpture and his work is immediately recognisable. This beautiful thing is tucked away, a special little secret. It’s art for everyone, there for you to touch and love. Moore of this please.
Where can I see it? Reclining and relaxing in the middle of Brandon Estate, Southwark.
Ah, Eros! The Greek god of love! How delightful to have him shooting his arrows of amour at passing Londoners! One problem: this isn’t Eros, it’s his brother, Anteros, avenger of unrequited love… Awkward. Let’s put that aside, though, and marvel at this prime example of Victorian sculpture.
Where can I see it? Aiming unwanted arrows of affection over Piccadilly Circus.
Hambling is known for her bold, expressionist paintings, and her detours into sculpture harness the same frantic energy. This work looks like something between a bench and a coffin. The idea is that passers-by stop and sit to have an imagined chat with the great Victorian playwright. While sitting on his chest. Hey, whatever turns you on, right?
Where can I see it? Spreading gossip on Adelaide Street near Charing Cross station.
Just missing out on the top ten spot, Rodin’s celebration of freedom from oppression is probably viewed more regularly by visitors to the city than actual Londoners due to its Westminster location. It’s worth a trip though, to see the French artist’s depiction of the Burghers of Calais - one of the most powerful stories of political intrigue ever - and their dripping dark casts backdropped by the Palace of Westminster. It's a gorgeous sculpture by a true master of the form, and it couldn't be somewhere more apt.
Where can I see it? In prime position right outside the Palace of Westminster.
Richard Wilson doesn’t do small. His public artworks tend to be simple in concept, but grand in scale. With this piece, banked on the Greenwich Peninsula, all he’s done is neatly slice through a former sand dredger and leave this cross-section behind. It’s fascinating to look into the boat’s interior, from the bridge down into the living quarters. And since it's become weathered from exposure to the elements, it’s become a kind of melancholy nod to the industrial days of the Thames, when the river was full of such vessels.
Where can I see it? Half-moored up on the banks of the Greenwich Peninsula.
Stretching 55 feet into the sky and dominating the western entrance to Liverpool Street station, Fulcrum was commissioned as a large-scale piece for a small corner of the city. Utilising the site’s limitations, Serra went up instead of out using five sheets of self-weathering Cor-Ten steel to make up the soaring sculpture. Spot welded together, they give the impression they could topple over onto a suit on their daily commute at any given moment.
Where can I see it? Causing chaos with commuters outside Liverpool Street station.
This memorial-cum-powerful work of art is a daily reminder of the horror of war. A gigantic Howitzer menacingly pierces the sky, flanked by stone reliefs depicting scenes of men in battle. Designed by Charles Jagger and Lionel Person, the piece is dedicated to those in the Royal Regiment of Artillery who lost their lives during Word War I.
Where can I see it? Sitting staunchly in Hyde Park Corner.
Look up at the summit of this steel behemoth from the bottom, 115 metres into the sky, and you’d be forgiven for forgetting that it’s a humble ol’ piece of art. Visionary sculptor Kapoor has always pushed his materials to their limits, but never like this. And four years after it opened as a monument to the 2012 Olympics, the Orbit was pimped with an add-on artwork: one of Belgian artist Carsten Höller’s trademark slides coiling down its length.
Where can I see it? Masquerading as more Stratford scaffolding in the Olympic Park.
After pesky thieves pinched Barbara Hepworth’s ‘Two Forms Divided Circle’ sculpture back in 2011, Southwark Council and the Contemporary Art Society tasked Conrad Shawcross with filling the void that was left in Dulwich Park. His offering was this series of giant knotted structures that have proved irresistible to small children with a penchant for hanging upside down and limber-legged adults alike. The swirling forms rest gently on the grass and are a nod to the artist’s ongoing study of harmonics. Perch atop The Octave, The Fifth or The Fourth if you’re passing through south London.
Where can I see it? Being clambered on by south Londoners in Dulwich Park.
A prime spot for a selfie-taking tourist, Nelson’s Column honours Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson who died at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. It was erected 35 years later and comprises a statue carved by Edward Hodges Baily sat atop a 150-foot Corinthian column designed by William Railton. It’s been climbed and clambered on numerous times for charity and protests, as well as being casually hired by Disney and decked out in lights to resemble a giant lightsaber. Sure. Why not?
Where can I see it? Soaring above a sea of tourists in the middle of Trafalgar Square.
Buildings have had weird bits of sculpture plonked on them for centuries, think the gargoyles at Notre Dame, or the beasts that come alive in Ghostbusters, but people weren’t all that happy when they saw what Epstein had added to 55 Broadway. In the ‘20s, these were seen as too modern, too naked, too brutish to be seen in public. But with the benefit of hindsight, we can see that these are stunning examples of Epstein’s bold, brave sculptures. Now if only they could come to life like the Terror Dogs in Ghostbusters they may have won this poll.
Where can I see it? In all its naked glory on the side of 55 Broadway.
You know how to make a war memorial better? Simple. Make it out of the melted down cannons of your enemies, that’s how. Richard Westmacott was not pissing about when he made the Wellington Monument, dedicated to Arthur Wellesley, the first duke of Wellington. He made it out of enemy cannons and he made it 36ft tall. It’s a colossal up-yours to the h8rs and it’s damn impressive.
Where can I see it? Picking fights with pigeons on the corner of Park Lane, near Hyde Park.
Turner Prize nominee Warren once said she wanted her work to look like it had been made by ‘a sort of pervy middle-aged provincial art teacher’. And this piece, a big, crude, phallic bronze cast of some splodged together clay, is no exception. Not only is it a massive up-yours to the ludicrous machismo of sculpture – still largely dominated by men – but it also looks hilariously out of place among the innocuous offices of Central Saint Giles.
Where can I see it? Making a statement between the office blocks of Central St Giles.