Gilbert Bayes – an English Sculptor

Gilbert Bayes (1872 – 1953) was an English sculptural artist who produced arts and crafts, art nouveau and art deco items in his long career. 

He first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1889, and then continued to work and exhibit up to his death in 1953.

Prior to exhibiting at the Royal Academy, Gilbert was already exhibiting at the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society and then started attending classes at the City and Guilds School in Finsbury in 1891.

Widely respected during his lifetime and President of the Royal Society of British Sculptors for many years, he was well known for his enthusiasm for public sculpture and for a close association between sculpture and architecture. As a result, works by Bayes can be seen in many parts of Britain, in France, Switzerland and Australia but he was above all a London sculptor.

Bayes’s first architectural commission was to design a bronze relief panel for the facade of the Art Gallery in New South Wales during the period when he as beginning to be recognised as a monumental sculptor.

In October 1931, ‘The Queen of Time’ – a horological masterpiece by Bayes was unveiled under the main entrance at the front of the Selfridges building in Oxford Street, London, which became the site of ‘London’s Meeting Place’.

The gold inlaid bronze figure with Doulton stoneware stands 11 feet (3.35m) high, on the prow of a ship of commerce and is attended by nymphs holding tidal moons and symbolises the Sea of Eternity.

Also in the Selfridges building are other sculptural adornments including bronze and mosaic floor roundels of trading vessels located by the lift entrance and a bronze Pegasus panel which is laid in the floor by the main entrance which was in honour of the store’s founder.

Selfridge was a great admirer of Bayes’s work and displayed a cast of ‘The Guardian of the seas’ from 1927 in his office.

The ship clock made for Selfridges, Oxford Street 1931 

His frieze on the Saville Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue.

Opened in 1931, The Saville went through various manifestations – as a music venue in the 1960’s, cinemas in the 1970’s and finally in its present form as the Odeon Cinema.

The 1930 sculptured Portland Stone frieze by Bayes is approximately 130 feet long, with sections named Bacchanalia and Harlequinade is entitled Drama Through The Ages and shows a sequence of the art of entertainment through the ages from Roman times to the three art deco dancing girls of the 1930s.

The Frieze was created in sections in Bayes’s studio and then fitted in sections to the theatre’s facade. One section of the frieze was apparently displayed at the Royal Academy in 1931, before its final move to the theatre.

Another of Bayes’s sculptural bas reliefs in Portland Stone, erected in 1934 outside Lords Cricket ground with a depiction of various sporting men and women.

The Fountain of St. John the Baptist
in the courtyard of the Merchant Taylor’s Hall, London.

The frieze at Doulton House named “Pottery through the ages” on the Albert Embankment. The building was completed in 1939 and demolished in 1979. This amazing Dolton ceramic panel was designed by Bayes. This piece was almost lost during the demolition but was saved during the last minute by a group of volunteers from the Ironbridge Gorge Museum and the pieces were reassembled at their Museum.

After restoration the frieze taken to the Victoria and Albert museum for display where it remains today.

Detail from the frieze from the Royal Doulton Building now in the V&A.

Mercury by Gilbert Bayes

I have in my own private collection the moquette of the Mercury panel by Gilbert Bayes. This is the original moquette made by Bayes for the bronze panel taken from the Royal Doulton building on the South Bank of London – sadly now demolished.

We originally owned the bronze panel of Mercury but alas as it was too heavy to display on our walls and it was regretfully sold. I later found the original plaster moquette made by Bayes which is much lighter and documented to have came via the family of Bayes.

Also in my private collection is a life size plaster version of the Sea Urchin signed and dated 1934. This was originally designed to be the central figure for a fountain and the boy would have been the fountain to dispense the water from his mouth. To the sides of the fountain two other figures were made who also were to be fountains. The original design can be seen in the Gilbert Bayes book on page 161.

Originally the Sea Urchin was produced as a small statue and was sold at the time for £54.10s. It was also produced in a larger size in bronze as a garden fountain although examples of these are dated 1932.

Bayes liked nothing more than to sit or lay in his garden listening to the sound of water from his various aquatic

During the 1930’s, Gilbert Bayes worked on an exciting art project for the St Pancras Housing Association Improvement Society. Since he believed that art should be available to the people, this commission was close to his heart. He produced relief model lunettes of fairy tale characters for the school in the housing association as well as ceramic sculptures and finial posts. These finials were made at the Doulton Pottery between 1931 and 1938.

Bayes designed some ambitious fountain groups for other media, which he exhibited at the Royal Academy in the 1930’s. His Sea Urchin was shown in 1934 and although originally intended for bronze, apparently did not get past the plaster stage although there is photographic evidence of a bronze version which was sold at Sothebys. Three years later he showed two plaster panels for his impressive Fountain of the Months, which was later produced, in artificial stone for a London garden. Here guests at the annual garden party that Bayes instigated when he was elected President of the Royal Society of British Sculptors in 1939 could admire them. Although he received no further garden commissions after the Second World War, his interest in the subject never waned and his work has continued to bring pleasure in private and public settings, just as he intended.

Other examples of his work are the BBC, Broadcasting House in London, the Victoria and Albert Museum, Merchant Taylors’ Hall, the headquarters of the London Fire Brigade and the Law Society. In addition, Bayes carried out many commissions for private clients, in wood, ivory, bronze, stone and concrete, as well as in ceramics.

The Greater London Fire Brigade Building

He was commissioned to do many gravestones and monuments for funerals. But he is reputed to say he did not like this work as he would rather work for the living who would appreciate his work and not for the dead who would not see it.

His garden statuary, medals and plaques are numerous and highly sought after – although possibly less known and consequently to learn more of this extraordinary designer and sculptor I would highly recommend reading the very informative book by Louise Irvine and Paul Atterbury entitled Gilbert Bayes, Sculptor 1872 – 1953.

The Lure of the Pipes 1932

One of the greatest Art Deco sculptors in Britain, Bayes developed a characteristic style that is now highly evocative of its period. He was also responsible for more public sculpture between the wars than any other artist working in Britain, and so it is entirely fitting that his greatest, and most decorative, work should be on permanent display at the Victoria and Albert Museum, where there is a whole section devoted to him and his works.

Sadly after the end of the second world war, commissions for monuments and works were not as numerous as for the first world war and with work drying up, his infirm wife needing constant attention and Gilberts own health in deterioration he is known to have destroyed many of his own works before he died in 1953.

The Frog Princess 1929

Next Blog: Art Deco Wall Masks, Plaques & Busts

Back to all blogs