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The Story of Two Shakespeare Sculptures from the 1960s

For Shakespeare's 450th birthday, we're going back 50 years to see what was done for his 400th birthday celebrations. The giant bronze statue of the Bard was created by British artist (Douglas Wain-Hobsen) in the early 1960s.

Helen Cook
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In the cafe area at the Shakespeare Centre stands a giant bronze sculpture of the man himself, William Shakespeare.  Commissioned for this space (then the entrance hall) when the Centre was built in the early 1960s, it was created by British artist, Douglas Wain-Hobson and stands an impressive 2.59 metres tall.

Sculpture of Shakespeare by Douglas Wain Hobson
Sculpture of Shakespeare by Douglas Wain Hobson

While sorting through the archives recently, I came upon Wain-Hobson’s own description of the thought processes that went into the development of the work and how he came to decide on his vision of Shakespeare.

He writes that he decided to accept the popular image of Shakespeare’s domed head and close cut beard...‘ but deliberately left out the eyes so that the individual could superimpose his own Shakespeare on what one might call a universal basic shape.’

‘...I imagined him to be a robust stocky man and I allowed a print at the Birthplace to convince me of this. I therefore made the sculpture solid looking with feet apart but firmly placed. I think a stance such as this must have been very common to him.’

A detail from Shakespeare’s cloak
A detail from Shakespeare’s cloak

Wain-Hobson’s sense of humour also led him to subtly represent the Chairman of the Trust, Sir Fordham Flower, and Director, Levi Fox, in the sculpture which they’d commissioned. He decorated the back of Shakespeare’s cloak with a small flower motif and a fox’s face!

The finished sculpture presents Shakespeare as a strong, forceful, dynamic Elizabethan. It also weighs a good half a ton and, as such, is still standing in the same spot, on its plinth, as it was when Centre opened.

Transporting Shakespeare
Transporting Shakespeare

Wain-Hobson also created another bronze sculpture for the Centre, this time representing Shakespeare’s contribution to the world in an abstract work.  Sculpted blocks representing Shakespeare’s works sweep around the circular world.  He writes, ‘an ordinary relief for an extraordinary man was not good enough’. He felt the work should be ‘a kind of Cenotaph: it had to be simple, symbolic and aloof.’

The relief decorates the front of the Shakespeare Centre. Original art works created in the spirit of the period were the key to the vision of the 1960s Shakespeare Centre, interpreting Shakespeare for the modern world rather than copying styles of the past.

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