Peter Pan Statue - George Frampton
Feature by Lizzie Guilfoyle
ALMOST as magical as the story itself was the appearance, in Kensington Gardens, of George Frampton’s bronze sculpture of Peter Pan.
For strange as it may seem in this publicity-seeking age, neither the book’s author, JM Barrie, nor sculptor, Frampton, sought any such thing. In fact, and due solely to their wishes, the work was denied even an unveiling ceremony.
Its appearance, on May Day morning, 1912, therefore, came as something of a surprise which is strange considering that a year earlier, Frampton exhibited a plaster version at the Royal Academy. Stranger still, it evoked neither comment nor speculation.
Consequently, it was left to The Times newspaper to announce its arrival – and briefly at that:
‘There is a surprise in store for the children who go to Kensington Gardens to feed the ducks in the Serpentine this morning. Down by the little bay, at the south-western side of the tail of the Serpentine, they will find a May Day gift from JM Barrie, a figure of Peter Pan blowing his pipe on the stump of a tree, with fairies and mice and squirrels all around.
It is the work of Sir George Frampton and the bronze figure of the boy who would never grow up is delightfully conceived.’
Like Sir Alfred Gilbert’s Eros, the work marked a technical milestone in the evolution of public sculpture and played a key role in transforming the language of this particular art form.
For it was largely due to the technical advances made by Singer’s and Burton’s, the two leading British foundries of the day, that allowed the base and figure of Frampton’s work to be cast as an integral unit.
Interestingly, although Frampton worked in Paris during the late 1870’s, at a time when Fremiet’s great fountains, lavishly decorated with the flora and fauna of far-flung outposts of the French Empire, were much admired, he himself, avoided any such exuberance
Instead, and for the tree stump setting, he opted for a combination of semi-tame animals of the English country-side – rabbits, squirrels, mice and snails – and delicate winged fairies.
The result, however, was equally exotic though in a very English and under-stated way.
So, just who is Peter Pan and what, if anything, is the significance, of Kensington Gardens?
Peter Pan was the creation of JM Barrie and first appeared in stories he told to the sons of his friend, Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, with whom he had a special relationship.
The name Peter is thought to be taken from the then youngest of the Llewelyn Davies boys and Pan, from the Greek god of the woodlands.
It has also been suggested that Barrie drew inspiration for the character (the boy who would never grow up) from his elder brother, David, whose death in a skating accident at the age of 13, deeply affected their mother.
Although no hard evidence supports the theory, it might be reasonably supposed that she drew comfort from the fact that, in dying a boy, he would remain a boy forever. Hence the comparison can be drawn.
Peter Pan first appeared in print in 1902 in The Little White Bird, a fictionalised version of Barrie’s relationship with the Llewelyn Davies children.
Two years later, and entitled Peter Pan or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, it became a highly successful play. Finally, in 1911, it was adapted by Barrie into the novel, Peter and Wendy (now usually published as Peter Pan) that is still so popular with the young and young-at-heart.
So, what’s it all about?
Peter invites the girl, Wendy, to Neverland, to be a mother to his gang of Lost Boys. There, accompanied by her two younger brothers, she becomes involved in a series of adventures, many involving Peter’s nemesis, the infamous Captain Hook. Eventually though, Wendy decides that her place is at home with her family .
But why Kensington Gardens?
The spot chosen for Frampton’s sculpture, is the very spot where Peter (he could fly, incidentally) landed in Barrie’s story. And it was intended to give quiet pleasure to nannies and their young charges as they walked or played in the park.
As well as London’s Peter Pan, there are four others – one in Sefton Park which is currently being restored; another in Brussells, also undergoing restoration work and is actually a war memorial, bearing the inscription: ‘A bond of friendship between the children of Great Britain and the children of Belgium.’
A third went to Newfoundland and the fourth, to Camden, New Jersey, for a Peter Pan festival, in 1926.