During the recent refurbishment of the front of the Institute, I took advantage of the scaffolding to go up and have a closer look at the bronze bust of Scott in a stone alcove above the front door. It is very rare to have such good access to this sculpture and I wanted to see what sort of condition it is in. So with hard hat and hi-vis vest on, I went up to have a look:
The bust is by Scott’s wife Kathleen and has been on the front of the Institute building since 1934. Kathleen was a professional sculptor, and it is easy to see that she worked with Auguste Rodin (who was actually a guest at her wedding to Scott). Her style of modelling skin and cloth owes a lot to Rodin – here is a picture of his bust of Jean d’Aire, one of the Burghers of Calais, alongside the Scott bust for comparison:
When seen close up, the bust of Scott is twice life size and looks almost alarmingly craggy! The sculpture was designed to be seen from far away, so the features are deliberately very exaggerated so they would be visible from the ground – right down to the big wart on Scott’s top lip:
The bust is in pretty good condition considering it has been out in all weathers for over 80 years. The surface is patchy and green but the corrosion is not damaging or out of control – many sculptors even deliberately treat the surface of bronzes to achieve this effect. The bust is screwed to a solid core with a huge bolt:
It is also sitting in a nifty lead tray which catches rainwater running off the surface. This water can be coloured green from the corrosion on the sculpture, and if it just flowed off the bust onto the stone below it would cause a big green stain on the building.
Pigeons are damaging for metal sculptures because their droppings can accelerate corrosion of the metal. Luckily there were just a few droppings round the sculpture and it doesn’t look like any pigeons have ever nested on Scott’s head. Perhaps his hood is too pointy for them to get comfortable! I removed the droppings with stiff brushes, and also cleared out the space behind the bust which was full of dead leaves etc.
While up on the scaffolding I also enjoyed a unique close-up view of the lovely 1930s stone carvings over the windows which match the pillars inside the Memorial Hall behind – a mother and baby penguin for the South Pole and a polar bear for the North: