This blog originally appeared in 2011 in the Ornamental Passions blogspot created by Chris Partridge.
We would like to thank Mr Partridge for allowing us to reproduce it in its entirety here.
Hammersmith Library was built in 1905 by Henry Hare, an architect who specialised in municipal buildings.
The Free Style design has a central hall with pavilions at each end, lavishly decorated with allegorical sculpture by Frederick Schenk.
The right-hand pavilion has women representing literature and art. Literature has a book open on her lap, and sits next to a pile of tomes with a massive inkwell balanced rather precariously on top – an accident waiting to happen, I think. Art is sketching a Greek fragment – you can even see the outline on her pad.
The left-hand pavilion has a figure of Craft with a spinning wheel – note Schenk’s signature.
Finally, Science (in a stroke of unconscious sexism, the only male figure) holds a pair of dividers. And I’m a bobtailed ptarmigan if those aren’t the telescope and celestial globe that appear in Schenk’s previous work at 37 Harley Street. Perhaps Schenk had a collection of science gear knocking around in his props cupboard for this sort of commission.
Graven images of the twin gods of English Culture, Milton and Shakespeare, are set up in the attic colonnade.
According to an academic paper, ‘Free Classicism in the Edwardian library‘ by Clare Sherriff, the symbolism is highly significant:
“Allied to the issue of freedom; the ‘free’ libraries were a political metaphor for the libertarian issues that dominated the period.
The race of nations and supremacy of empire created a political necessity for the libraries. Sculptural linguistics, such as Schenck’s statues of Milton and Shakespeare at the Hammersmith library (1905) acted as semiotic bait. The Edwardian sculptor, often marginalised, is objectified by the research, which aims to map new meanings and connections to the Edwardian library.”
So, all is clear.