When we drove past this corner, I asked myself why people might want to eat next to a statue of a naked man on a horse…and then promptly forgot about it. Over the years as I had occasion to look at the London photographs again, I would see it and remind myself ‘now why is this statue in front of a coffee shop?’ and then promptly forget about it again until the next time I looked at it. While perusing the statues photos for this series, I almost overlooked this one…and then thought what better way to actually answer the question of why people had coffee under the tail of a horse…and thus, the tale of the horse has arrived, and it is more significant than I had thought.
The statue, Horse and Rider by sculptor Dame Elisabeth Frink was commissioned by Trafalgar House in 1974 for its site in Dover Street (where the above photograph was taken). When Caffe Nero took over the building, seating was arranged around the statue. The statue was restored and moved to New Bond Street as part of a £10 million development of Bond Street and the Burlington Gardens area (Tom Foot, From Nero to Bond Street: new home for famous Horse and Rider sculpture, Camden New Journal, June 29, 2018). In the decision to list the statue as a grade II building for historic listing, Historic England said of the historic value of the statue:
The period after 1945 saw a shift from commemorative sculpture and architectural enrichment to the idea of public sculpture as a primarily aesthetic contribution to the public realm. ..thus public sculpture could be an emblem of civic renewal and social progress.
Frink’s passion was deep for the horse form, and she completed many sculptural and drawings of horse and rider.
The idea expressed that public sculpture could or should be aesthetic enrichment for people was earlier illustrated by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s commitment to the New Deal administration, and the importance of “art for the people.” I have previously written about the public art work commissioned by the New Deal programs, including the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP, 1933), Art & Culture Projects of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA, 1934), Treasury Section of Fine Arts (TSFA, 1934), Treasury Relief Art Project (TRAP, 1935), Indian Arts and Crafts Board (1935), Federal Project Number One (Federal One, 1935) which included the Federal Art Project , Federal Music Project, Federal Writers’ Project, Federal Theatre Project, and Historical Records Survey, and the Federal Dance Project (1936).
George Biddle, an artist, contacted his former college friend, President Franklin Roosevelt with an idea to promote art and artists, and the concept of “art for the people” resulted with the first relief project, the Public Works of Art Project operated under the Civil Works Administration. Other art projects followed, such as the Federal Art Project operated under the Works Progress Administration (1935-1943) and the Treasury Relief Art Project from 1935-1939. The post office art spending ended in 1942 and was not resumed after the war. (Indianola Post Office, Suzassippi, October 20, 2017)