Looking Around with the Editor
Theft of the Barbara Hepworth Sculpture

The appalling theft of the Hepworth sculpture, Two Forms – Divided Circle, from Dulwich Park just before Christmas came as a total shock. We had grown up with the presence of this artwork; indeed Dulwich had become rather flattered to have such an important piece on display in a public park. Of course, its arrival was somewhat controversial in 1970. Should the Greater London Council be spending £15,000 on a work by a living artist? And especially as it was neither unique nor original, but one of a limited edition of six. However, as Liz Johnson points out in her book Dulwich Park – a park for the people forever had it been a one-off it would have cost £23,000 and it was felt that the Council had got something of a bargain!

It was slightly comforting to learn that the Hepworth was insured by Southwark Council for £500,000, although the estimated value seems to be nearer £2million (which interestingly is about the same amount a £15,000 house purchased in Dulwich in 1970 is worth today).

So what should be done now? Should public artwork be produced in less expensive materials such as stone or acrylic? Should a copy be made? We asked Richard Deacon CBE, a sculptor and Turner prize winner who lives locally and is a visiting Professor of Art for his views. He has doubts about such a course. One reason, he says, is that history is a part of the reason sculptors choose bronze (and of course its ‘fit for purpose attributes). Equally the provision of a copy is, he thinks, not possible – the original moulds have long since been destroyed and in any case this was a lifetime cast with a patina that Hepworth herself had approved, if not actually applied. Richard Deacon thinks the solution might lie in more security and in security tagging and says the scrap metal industry (which is a very important part of the recycling network) does need to come together to provide solutions to protect infrastructure and heritage and a legislative framework to deter such thefts.

And what should be done with the £500,000 insurance money? Certainly it should not be allowed to disappear into the Council’s general accounts. Here at least is an opportunity for good to come out of the disaster. The money should be spent on public art in public spaces in the borough. The Dulwich Society would welcome suggestions on how this might proceed.

The Dulwich Park Friends are planning an exhibition about the stolen Hepworth sculpture during the forthcoming Dulwich Festival. Details are yet to be finalised but photographs of the sculpture or ideas for an exhibition (such as work inspired by the Hepworth) would be welcomed. Please contact the chairman, Trevor Moore on 07967 000546.

Naturally, the Dulwich Society is concerned about the safety of the bronze statue of Edward Alleyn by Louise Simson, situated in front of the Old College. As readers will be aware, this statue was the initiative of the Society in 2005 on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of Edward Alleyn’s purchase of the Manor of Dulwich which led to the creation of his Foundation. The Society insures the statue through The Dulwich Estate, it has treated the statue with the Smart Water security marking treatment and has installed CCTV, the presence of both of which devices are displayed on the stone plinth of the statue, somewhat to its detriment. The Dulwich Society is also looking towards putting alarms on both the figures of the statue group and is considering having a digital image made of the statue in order that a new mould could be made if this statue is also stolen. However, the cost of such imaging, including VAT is over £4000. Lastly, it has pressed its views on stronger regulation on the scrap metal industry to local councillors.

What more can it do?