Saturday, 20 August 2011

The Menin Gate

This posting was inspired by the recent purchase of an etching and the long time ownership of a pottery Lion.


To the armies of The British Empire who stood here 1914-1918
and those of their dead who have no known grave

These are the words inscribed on the east side of the memorial just below the seated Lion. The pottery model below is a copy of the Lion made the Ashtead Potters.


The Menin Gate is the memorial to the missing servicemen of the British Empire who fell in the Ypres Salient during World War 1. It bears the names of over 56,000 soldiers of the British Empire who died between November 1914 and 15th/16th August 1917 and have no known grave. Their names are engraved in Portland stone panels fixed on to the building. Another memorial, The Tyne Cot Memorial at Passchendaele, lists a further 35,000 names of men  who disappeared in the Salient between 16th August 1917 and the end of the war. The Memorial was completed in 1927 and since then the Last Post has been sounded every evening.


The memorial is a monumental sculpture in it's own right, a work of art that sends a clear message about the human sacrifice of the First World War, which can be read as a memorial to the individuals or as a statement of the futility of war.

Who were these artists ?

The Menin Gate was designed in 1921 by Sir Reginald Blomfield (1856-1942) and paid for by the British Government. Blomfield was already an established architect when chosen to design the gate. He had previously designed; alterations to Chequers, Regents Streets' Quadrant, Heathfield Park,  and a string of public and university buildings. Many of the decorative features on the gate, including the Lion on top of the arch were designed and carved by Sir William Reid Dick (1879-1961).

William was a Scottish born sculptor who was an apprentice stonemason when he enrolled at the Glasgow School of Art in 1899. He worked as an art teacher and first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1908. He went on to exhibit 108 work there during the course of his career and was elected a full RA member in 1928. He went on to become the "King's Sculptor in Ordinary for Scotland" in 1938. He served in the army during WW1, after joining the Territorial Army in the 5th London Field Ambulance section of the Royal Army Medical Corps, subsequently he transferred to the 3rd Army Field Survey Co, part of the Royal Engineers and then the 7th Field Survey Co as a photographer.

The pottery version of the Lion was made by the Ashtead Potters in c1929/30; a pottery set up to employ disabled servicemen from the war. Whether these models were sold as souvenirs or to raise money for the memorial, I do not know. Touching that ex-servicemen were employed to create these lions as a memorial to their fallen comrades. The Ashtead Potters were establsihed in 1923 by Sir Lawrence Weaver and ran until it's closure in 1935. Many of the figural works were designed established artists such as Reid Dick, Phoebe Stabler, Allon Wyon and Donald Gilbert. See - ashteadpottery.com

The etching was created by the artist Graham Barry Clilverd (born 1883). Like Reid Dick, he served in France in the Royal Engineers, in his case in the Camouflage section. He was a successful etcher exhibiting widely including at the Royal Academy, Walker Gallery, Royal Scottish Academy and Royal Society of British Artist. Sadly, his art has fallen out of favour despite its technical excellence.

These are all beautiful works of art and all have been heavily influenced by the effects of war.

Internet references;
http://www.kinnethmont.co.uk/1914-1918_files/john-ingram-ypres.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Menin_Gate
http://yourarchives.nationalarchives.gov.uk/index.php?title=Dick,_Sir_William_Reid_(1879-1961)_Knight_Sculptor
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