At the end of the nineteenth century, Art Nouveau transformed towns and countryside around the world. Even though its style had gained popularity from just the last ten years or so, Art Nouveau permeated many arts & crafts: jewellery, book design, glasswork, textiles, wrought iron, and architecture, to name just a few, with its high Victorian design and craftwork.
The peacock being the most spread Art Nouveau pattern, a great example is the one adorning the Princes Square Shopping Centre building facade on Buchanan Street in the heart of Glasgow.
In 1985, Hugh Martin & Partners were commissioned to renovate the Princes Square building. They had several meetings with Alan Dawson to create the Princes’ building decorative art program consisting of gates, balustrades, the famous “Peacock” and other associated decorative ironwork.
They had some doubts about the delivery dates promised by Alan Dawson, for such an extensive project would require much time. They were also sceptic that it would all fit inside the budget, but Alan Dawson was confident that he could accomplish the task within deadline and budget.
Following a partnership with the Workington firm Shepley Engineering, he teamed with traditional artist-blacksmiths. They started the program in 1987 and in 1990, in time and within budget, the main exterior peacock was added to the Buchanan Street facade, in part as a contribution to the City of Culture Festival in Glasgow that year.
The Princes Square’s peacock is a magnificent piece of metal art and deserves we take some time to know more about its features.
Located on the top of the facade, the peacock’s sculpture is made in coloured hand-forged wrought iron and steel, extending to its colossal dimensions of 10m high and 20m wide. It comes out from the iron ring which is located in the center of the attic balustrade.
Its tail, outspreading in the air are tipped with bronze aluminium rods making it an eye-catching sculpture and definitely a dominant landmark of the Buchanan Street’s south section.
The use of a consistent pattern of imagery throughout, as well as a candid dependence on Art Nouveau precedents in the style, enables the scheme to be read as a visually and conceptually unified whole.
Glasgow is notable as being one of the few British cities to have resisted artistic centralization based in London. Only in Glasgow were there significant local workshops, often family-based, training dynasties of native sculptors. Public Sculpture of Glasgow includes work by some of the most influential British and continental sculptors during the last 200 years including John Flaxman, John Gibson, J.H. Foley and Carlo Marochetti. Ray McKenzie has in this volume for the first time demonstrated the importance of Glasgow’s architectural sculpture and explained its function with a wealth superbly arranged and carefully marshaled detail.
I cannot write about Art Nouveau without mentioning the name of Charles Rennie Mackintosh!
He was an architect-designer and has put Glasgow on the map with the formation of the Glasgow School of Art, along with other local artists around the turn of the century. His work can be seen around the city in the shape of many historical buildings, and his designs and architectural works are still a source of inspiration for many modern designs of today.
During our last trip to Scotland, we visited some of Mackintosh’s heritage sites : The Hill House, Glasgow School of Art ( founded in 1845 which makes it one of the oldest creative institutions in the UK ), The Willow Tearooms, The Mackintosh House ( Hunterian Art Gallery), The Queen’s Cross church and Mairiuna and I are eager to write several posts about them.
Charles Rennie Mackintosh was more than just an architect. He was also an outstanding international artist and designer, so stay tuned for more!
Enjoy the read and leave a comment below to share your thoughts.