For the first time in more than a century, some of the statues on the terracing in Crystal Palace Park are getting a lick of paint as part of a restoration project run jointly by Historic England, the Mayor of London’s office and Bromley council, the local authority which manages the park.The six sphinxes – there’s some photographic evidence to suggest that there may have originally been eight – have been on the site since the vast building which housed the 1851 Great Exhibition was moved to its new parkland setting in south London.
The Crystal Palace sphinxes are copies of an original Egyptian statue which is in the Louvre museum in Paris. They are Grade II Listed, but had fallen into serious disrepair and were on the Heritage at Risk register. The sphinxes appear to have been made in an early form of concrete, part modelled in situ and part pre-cast.
Each of the sphinxes will get two coats of paint while the two close to the Anerley Hill side of the park will undergo repair. The staircase they flank, blocked off for many years, has been cleared of vegetation and restored.The choice of colour, a terracotta red, is based on some archaeological detective work: paint scrapings were taken from the sphinxes, showing that they had been regularly painted, with evidence of eight layers of paint up until the end of the 19th century.
The project is the beginning of a 10-year programme of upgrading and preservation work in the park, which might have started two or three years ago were it not for former Mayor Boris Johnson’s fatuous dalliance with a Chinese “billionaire” and their fantasy of building a replica Crystal Palace on the top of the hill.
“The sphinxes are a much-loved feature of the park, but following a devastating fire in 1936 which razed the Palace to the ground, their condition has deteriorated,” a Bromley council spokeswoman told the Crystal Palace news site.
“In places the brick core of the sculptures is exposed, saplings have taken root in surface cracks and their stucco finish has discoloured after years of exposure.
“The sphinxes, which were added to the Historic England Heritage at Risk Register in 1995, have now been cleaned and their stucco surfaces are being repaired. To complete their transformation the sphinxes will be painted a Victorian terracotta red.
“Not only will the paint provide the sculptures with an important protective coat, but it will reinstate their original mid-19th century colouring and help bring to life their story as ‘gatekeepers’ to the famous Crystal Palace.”
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