The Sunbathers by émigré sculptor Peter Laszlo Peri

Peter Laszlo Peri The Sunbathers
1. Photograph in The Illustrated London News, Festival of Britain supplement, 12 May 1951 (photo: © Illustrated London News Ltd/Mary Evans)

A unique sculpture by the Hungarian émigré sculptor, Peter Laszlo Peri, who died in 1967, which for decades was believed lost, and probably destroyed, after the Festival of Britain closed in September 1951, has been rediscovered. This exciting find has come to light as the result of Historic England’s exhibition, Out There: Our Post-War Public Art, at Somerset House, London, early last year.

A couple visiting the exhibition and studying the wall of photographs of missing pieces of public art recognised The Sunbathers by Laszlo Peri, as a sculpture that they had seen in the garden of The Clarendon Hotel in Blackheath. The work had been bought at auction by the owner of the hotel in the 1960s and laid on a patio in the hotel gardens, where it had been seen and enjoyed by countless guests.

The linked figures were mounted on the wall of the Waterloo Station Gate entrance on York Road as part of the Festival of Britain on London’s Southbank. They are made from a special kind of concrete known as Peri-crete, invented by the artist as a cheaper alternative to casting in bronze. The poet, Dylan Thomas, mentioned the sculpture in his essay about visiting the Festival, describing how the ‘man and woman fly-defying gravity’ and appear to be ‘elegantly hurrying up a W.C. wall’.

Peter Laszlo Peri The Sunbathers
2. Peter Laszlo Peri, The Sunbathers at the Clarendon Hotel, Blackheath, in February 2017 (photo: © Historic England)

Historic England has launched a crowd-funding campaign to raise £15,000 to help restore The Sunbathers, which has suffered a certain amount of damage and has been overpainted (fig.2). It is intended that, once restored, the sculpture will be put on public display and take pride of place at The Royal Festival Hall for three months as part of The Southbank Centre’s Summertime Festival 2017.

Historic England has already contributed towards the restoration, but they need to raise a further £15,000. This will help pay for conservators to dry the sculpture out, peel back layers of paint, reshape the wire frame and patch up missing pieces, and install it back on the Southbank.

The sculptor’s descendants are thrilled that the work has been found. Peter Peri, grandson of Peter Laszlo Peri, commented ‘The Sunbathers rediscovery now is a wonderful, even miraculous event and I’m delighted to support Historic England’s campaign for its restoration’. He added ‘The sculpture has a radical vertical format; its representation of a sundial-like dynamic engagement between ordinary people at leisure and the cosmos is a great example of my grandfather’s unique mixture of Constructivism and Realism.’

While Jean MacIntyre, granddaughter of Peter Laszlo Peri thinks her grandfather ‘would have been absolutely delighted by Historic England’s campaign. For him, the most important thing was to have his art in public places, so everyone could pass by and appreciate them. In 1966 he held an exhibition called “It’s the People who Matter” which summed up his philosophy. He would have been very moved to know that it’s the people who will save this marvellous piece of public art for future generations to enjoy.’

Donate! Join the campaign to restore The Sunbathers and put Laszlo Peri’s sculpture back on public display.