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The Sunbathers Go Back on Public Display

  • A once lost Festival of Britain sculpture has returned to London’s South Bank thanks to a successful Historic England crowdfunding campaign
  • The Sunbathers is on free public display inside the Royal Festival Hall at Southbank Centre this summer
  • The figures get their terracotta tan back as conservators reveal their true colour

Today Historic England welcomes the return of The Sunbathers, a unique sculpture from the 1951 Festival of Britain, to London’s South Bank.

The sculpture by Peter Laszlo Peri was presumed lost forever by everyone including the artist’s family, until it was rediscovered at a London hotel after a call for information on lost public art by Historic England.

Thanks to the stellar support of the public, more than £22,000 was raised during our successful crowdfunding campaign to restore this important post-war artwork.

The Sunbathers on display at the Festival of Britain in 1951
The Sunbathers on display at the Festival of Britain in 1951 © Historic England Archive aa51/06841

The figures had been coated in pale paint over the years, but thanks to careful conservation these layers have been stripped back to reveal the original, sun-kissed terracotta colour the artist intended; The Sunbathers have their tan back!

The Sunbathers sculpture is now free for all to see inside the Royal Festival Hall as part of Southbank Centre’s Summertime programme. An afternoon of free activities inspired by The Sunbathers will take place on Southbank Centre’s terrace on Saturday 29 July 2017.

The female figure during conservation
The female figure during conservation © Historic England / Chris Redgrave

Duncan Wilson, Historic England’s Chief Executive, said:
"The Festival of Britain was a symbol of hope and optimism for a weary post-war nation and we are thrilled at the public support and generosity that are allowing us to bring a bit of it back. We are returning The Sunbathers to their home on the South Bank with the help of so many people, and we hope it will inspire visitors the way it did Dylan Thomas when he visited the Festival of Britain."

In 1951 Dylan Thomas was inspired by The Sunbathers on his visit to the Festival, writing about: "the linked terra-cotta man and woman fly-defying gravity and elegantly hurrying up a W.C. wall."

Non-original paint layers are removed to reveal the true colour beneath
Non-original paint layers are removed to reveal the true colour beneath © Copyright Tessa Jackson / Historic England

We are talking to a number of interested parties with the potential to provide a permanent home for The Sunbathers, where the sculpture can be on public display. Any further approaches can be made to us by emailing sunbathers@historicengland.org.uk

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