Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain

Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain

The fountain in 2014
Artist Sir Alfred Gilbert
Year 1885–93
Type Fountain, sculpture
Medium Aluminium, bronze
Dimensions 1097 cm × 518 cm (432 in × 204 in)
Location Piccadilly Circus, London, W1
Coordinates 51°30′35″N 0°08′04″W / 51.50984°N 0.13449°W / 51.50984; -0.13449Coordinates: 51°30′35″N 0°08′04″W / 51.50984°N 0.13449°W / 51.50984; -0.13449
The fountain on a Monday evening, 2014

The Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain is located at the southeastern side of Piccadilly Circus in London, United Kingdom. Moved after World War II from its original position in the centre, it was erected in 1892–1893 to commemorate the philanthropic works of Lord Shaftesbury, who was a famous Victorian politician and philanthropist.

The monument is surmounted by Alfred Gilbert's winged nude statue generally, though mistakenly, known as Eros. This has been called "London's most famous work of sculpture";[1] a graphical illustration of it is used as the symbol of the Evening Standard newspaper and appears on its masthead. It was the first sculpture in the world to be cast in aluminium and is set on a bronze fountain, which itself inspired the marine motifs that Gilbert carved on the statue.

The use of a nude figure on a public monument was controversial at the time of its construction, but it was generally well received by the public. The Magazine of Art described it as "...a striking contrast to the dull ugliness of the generality of our street sculpture, ... a work which, while beautifying one of our hitherto desolate open spaces, should do much towards the elevation of public taste in the direction of decorative sculpture, and serve freedom for the metropolis from any further additions of the old order of monumental monstrosities."

Although the statue is generally known as Eros, it was created as an image of his brother, Anteros.[2] The sculptor Alfred Gilbert had already sculpted a statue of Anteros and, when commissioned for the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain, chose to reproduce the same subject, who, as "The God of Selfless Love" was deemed to represent the philanthropic 7th Earl of Shaftesbury suitably. Gilbert described Anteros as portraying "reflective and mature love, as opposed to Eros or Cupid, the frivolous tyrant." The model for the sculpture was Gilbert's studio assistant, a 16-year-old Anglo-Italian, Angelo Colarossi (born 1875 in Shepherd's Bush).[3] Fernando Meacci was involved in the moulding of the fountain[4] and it was probably cast by George Broad & Son.[5]

Piccadilly Circus in 1896, with the fountain in the foreground

The memorial was unveiled by the Duke of Westminster on 29 June 1893.[6] Following the unveiling there were numerous complaints. Some felt it was sited in a vulgar part of town (the theatre district), and others felt that it was too sensual as a memorial for a famously sober and respectable Earl. Some of the objections were tempered by renaming the statue as The Angel of Christian Charity,[7] which was the nearest approximation that could be invented in Christian terms for the role Anteros played in the Greek pantheon. However, the name never became widely known and the statue was thence referred to as Eros, the god of sensual love; inappropriate some said in relation to the Earl's commemoration, but hailed by others as an ironic representation of the more carnal side of the neighbourhood, into which Soho had developed.

Where the bow was originally pointed is the subject of two urban myths. The first is that the archer is aiming up Shaftesbury Avenue. Sometimes, the story goes that this was a visual pun to commemorate the great philanthropist. If the archer were to release his arrow, its shaft would bury itself in Shaftesbury Avenue. The other is that the arrow is pointing to the Earl's country seat in Wimborne Saint Giles, Dorset. However, an 1896 photograph of the circus taken only three years after the statue's erection clearly shows the arrow pointing in a different direction, down Lower Regent Street aptly towards Parliament. This is proven by the position relative to the statue of Shaftesbury Avenue, the London Pavilion and the Criterion Theatre.

The whole memorial was removed twice from the circus in its history. In 1922 construction began on the new tube station directly beneath the memorial. The memorial was therefore taken away and put in Embankment Gardens. It returned to Piccadilly Circus in 1931; but when the Second World War broke out in 1939, the memorial was taken away again for safety and kept in Egham. It did not return to Piccadilly Circus again until 1948.[8][9]

The statue was removed for restoration in the 1980s and resited on its return in February 1985. During the restoration a set of plaster casts was unearthed in the V&A basements which revealed damage to the statue.[10] The statue was also vandalised in 1990 and after radiography and restoration returned in 1994.[11] In May 2012 the statue had a new bow string fitted after it was broken by a tourist.[12]

In the winter of 2013–2014 the statue was covered with a PVC 'snow globe' featuring internal fans blowing the 'snowflakes'. This also had the function of protecting the statue from vandalism and it was planned to return in subsequent years. However strong winds caused the globe to become damaged and deflate and it was not subsequently repaired.[13] In winter 2014–2015 octagonal advertising hoardings forming a box for giant Christmas presents had a similar function.[14]

See also


  1. Bradley, Simon; Pevsner, Nikolaus (2003), London: Westminster, The Buildings of England, 6, London and New Haven: Yale University Press, p. 58
  2. Lloyd & Mitchinson (2006) The book of general ignorance "Because of the bow and the nudity... everybody assumed it was Eros, the Greek god of love"
  3. "Eros", National Conservation Centre
  4. British bronze sculpture founders and plaster figure makers, 1800–1980 – M
  5. British bronze sculpture founders and plaster figure makers, 1800–1980 – B
  6. Ward-Jackson, Philip (2011), Public Sculpture of Historic Westminster: Volume 1, Public Sculpture of Britain, 14, Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, p. 225
  7. Fountains and Water Features
  8. Weinreb, Ben and Hibbert, Christopher (1992). The London Encyclopaedia (reprint ed.). Macmillan. p. 271.
  9. Marshall, Prince (1972). Wheels of London. The Sunday Times Magazine ISBN 0-7230-0068-9.
  10. Eros Restored : For a Mere $250,000 You Can Own a Life-Size Casting of One of London's Best-Known Statues, May 31, 1987|Bevis Hillier
  11. Repairs and Alterations to Listed Building Supplementary Planning Guidance
  12. Universal restring Eros after he broke his bow!
  13. Piccadilly Circus Eros 'snow globe' will not return
  14. NOV 28 2014| LOCAL AUTHORITY CONTRACT. Eros surrounded by box of giant Christmas presents
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