Why the Yeats sculpture will be a great addition to Chiswick

Image above: Artist’s impression of how the proposed Yeats sculpture will look

Guest blog by Torin Douglas MBE, Director of Chiswick Book Festival

It’s more than five years since Cahal Dallat set out his vision for a memorial to WB Yeats in Bedford Park. As a supporter of the WB Yeats Bedford Park Artwork Project (and a committee-member), I think this time has been well-spent.

Not only is the vision now fully-formed (benefitting from lengthy discussion and consultation) in the shape of ‘Enwrought Light’, a sculpture by the youngest Royal Academician, Conrad Shawcross. But Chiswick is now better placed to welcome and display an artwork of this quality.

Five years ago, Chiswick’s artistic, literary and architectural heritage was under-appreciated. Hogarth and Chiswick House were widely celebrated, but much else was overlooked.

The opening of the Chiswick Timeline mural in 2018 began to change that, celebrating Chiswick’s history in art and maps. Under the bridges at Turnham Green station, online and in a book, it highlighted paintings of Chiswick by an array of distinguished artists: William Hogarth, Johan Zoffany, JMW Turner, Camille Pissarro, Sir John Lavery, Eric Ravilious, Mary Fedden, Julian Trevelyan, Marthe Armitage, Alfred Daniels, Jan Pieńkowski and Sir Peter Blake.

READ ALSO: Johann Zoffany, 18th century high society painter who lived at Strand on the Green

READ ALSO:  Marthe Armitage, artist and patternmaker, who lives at Strand on the Green

That inspired the Chiswick Book Festival to create the Chiswick Timeline of Writers & Books, highlighting the area’s authors, including Yeats and Harold Pinter, winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Both are featured on its Writers Trail, with Alexander Pope, William Thackeray, John Osborne, Iris Murdoch, EM Forster, Sir John Betjeman, Nancy Mitford, Anthony Burgess and others. The Timeline itself now features over 400 authors, prompting the Observer to write: “Chiswick may be the UK’s most literary location”.

READ ALSO: Alexander Pope, 18th century satirical poet who lived in Mawson Row

READ ALSO: Nancy Mitford, 20th century novelist who lived at Strand on the Green

In the past few weeks, these links have been highlighted in the ‘Exploring Chiswick’ initiative by cultural groups – backed by The Chiswick Calendar and other local media – encouraging people to seek out the local arts trails online (if staying at home) and on foot (if exercising).

Image above: Artist’s impression of how the proposed Yeats sculpture will look

Why Yeats? Why this sculpture? And why outside St Michael & All Angels Church?

The WB Yeats Bedford Park Artwork Project is now seeking planning approval and I’m sure there will be lots of debate. To me, there seem three key issues.

1. Should we commemorate WB Yeats’s life and work in Bedford Park?

I think we should.

He is one of Chiswick’s two winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature and he wrote his best-known poem, The Lake Isle of Innisfree, in Bedford Park. The genesis is described by his sister Lily in Roy Foster’s biograph, WB Yeats: A Life:

“In Bedford Park one evening … Willy bursting in having just written, or not even written down but just having brought forth ‘Innisfree‘, he repeated it with all the fire of creation of his youth.”

Yeats’ time in Bedford Park inspired both his poetry and his dramatic work, as Cahal Dallat highlights on the WB Yeats Artwork Project website.

Yeats lived in Woodstock Road as a boy and returned with his family as a young man to live in Blenheim Road, where he not merely wrote The Lake Isle of Innisfree, inspired by Chiswick Eyot, but wrote his first play, for theatrical friends he’d come to know through the Bedford Park Club on The Avenue (now reborn as the London Buddhist Vihara).

There Yeats attended lectures on Eastern religions, his father debated the day’s issues with Bedford Park neighbours, and local amateur dramatics inspired Yeats’s own symbolist drama, leading to the creation of the world-renowned Abbey Theatre in Dublin.

Images above: WB Yeats; the house where he lived in Woodstock Rd

2. Is the artwork appropriate?

I think it is.

It’s the work of one of the country’s best young sculptors, Conrad Shawcross. See the Royal Academy website: royalacademy.org.uk. The youngest Royal Academician, his work can be seen in a host of public spaces, from artworks in country estates, museums and stately homes to public parks and communal spaces. The work has been awarded £25,000 by the Royal Academy.

I think the work itself is striking and inspiring. As it says on the project website:

“For some, Shawcross’s shapes will invoke flights of birds. For others the piece will echo the foliage of Bedford Park’s leafy, wooded avenues (its escape from city to pastoral) or Yeats’s sacred Celtic hazel woods. For others still, perhaps, a choir of angels in flight…”

Its title ‘Enwrought Light’ is taken from another of Yeats’ most popular poems (which is also appropriate for a setting close to a church):

“He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven” by William Butler Yeats
HAD I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

The artwork is not in the traditional Arts & Crafts style, but Bedford Park itself was seen as very radical in its day. The ‘first garden suburb’ has also embraced once-controversial structures such as The Voysey House and 2 South Parade, “A splendid example of thirties modernism” built in 1938.

3. Does the proposal set it in the right place?

I think it does.

The reasons are stated on the Artwork Location section on the project website. It’s at the ‘gateway’ to Bedford Park; visible from the roadways and the pavements gray the young poet walked to school; en route to No. 3 Blenheim Rd where they lived from 1888, where Yeats wrote The Lake Isle of Innisfree and where the Irish Literary Society was founded (still a major literary organisation in London’s cultural life); and within sight of the former Bedford Park Club building on The Avenue (mentioned above).

It is by St. Michael & All Angels Church, where the family worshipped (Yeats’s grandfather and great-grandfather were both Anglican clergymen), a cultural and community focal point; and facing Acton Green, the local ‘village green’ where the Yeatses enjoyed fairs and circuses (inspiring WB’s poems and Jack B’s paintings).

The vicar of St Michael & All Angels Bedford Park, Fr Kevin Morris, chairs the project committee (and is a great lover of Yeats’ poems) but this is not a church project. The sculpture would not be on the church’s land but on Hounslow Council’s – a few metres along from the Bedford Park information sign erected in 2014 on the initiative of the Bedford Park Society.

The location shown in the image has been carefully chosen by local architects, relating the structure to the windows in the west wall of the church. It would also be enhanced in spring and summer by its proximity to the trees.

The sculpture is also within sight of the acclaimed mural at Turnham Green tube station, the ‘Chiswick Timeline: A History in Art and Maps’, which features scenes of Chiswick by many artists, from William Hogarth to Sir Peter Blake, as named above.

I hope you’ll lend your support to a project whose time, I believe, has come.
You can make your views known on the planning website here and make a pledge on the SpaceHive website here.

On the Hounslow Council website you need to choose Search planning applications, accept Terms & Conditions, click on Planning Search, enter System Reference P/2021/0577, click Search, then click on the reference P/2021/0577 to view documents or comment.

Project website: wbyeatsbedfordpark.com.

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: Profile of WB Yeats in Chiswick by Lucinda MacPherson

See also: Explore Chiswick’s cultural history online and on foot

Support The Chiswick Calendar

The Chiswick Calendar CIC is a community resource. Please support us by buying us the equivalent of a monthly cup of coffee (or more, if you insist). Click here to support us.

We publish a weekly newsletter and update the website with local news and information daily. We are editorially independent.

To subscribe to the weekly newsletter, go here.