Liverpool Resurgent
Lewis’s Building, Ranelagh Place, Liverpool L1

Picture by Dave Wood
 
Sculptor: Jacob Epstein
 

The present Lewis's building dates from 1947 when Gerald De Courcey Fraser completed the replacement for the bomb damaged building he had previously completed in 1923. By 1947 such huge buildings had been emancipated from the expectation that even steel framed buildings would be clothed in neo-classical garb. The corner was originally designed to be concave but the Directors of Lewis's Department Store decided to commission a statue to identify themselves as being firmly in the van of Liverpool's rebirth after the ravages of The Blitz. The corner was flattened and stepped to accommodate this stupendous statue, towering over Ranelagh Place and completed nine years after the building, in 1956. Epstein caused outrage in 1908 with his eighteen colossal nudes for the British Medical Association building in London. Fifty years later, he was still disconcerting with this naked man who stands aprow a ship, defiant and proud. It was pruriently alleged that shopgirls would be unable to pass the naked figure and that young minds would be poisoned by the nudity. Instead it became part of Liverpool folklore, the exceedingly bare statue; Dickie Lewis. Often overlooked, literally, are three mural panels just above the corner doors, also by Epstein and representing the new post war generation of children. Children Fighting, Baby In Pram and Children Playing, were completed and installed in 1955, a year before Liverpool Resurgent was unveiled.

Epstein, the New York born, naturalised Briton, admired by Augustus John and Sickert, had been shunned by the establishment as a somewhat elderly enfant terrible. By 1954 he had gained a formal acceptance with his knighthood. Epstein himself counted this amongst his major works and considered the commanding position afforded the statue as a great honour. There are several admirable and quite beautiful busts by Epstein in the Walker Art Gallery collection of which a personal favourite is Sonia, a woman the artist saw in a Regent’s Park tea garden and asked to pose for him. The sculpted Sonia has an ambiguous look, every bit as enigmatic as the Mona Lisa's smile.

Sources:
Pevsner Architectural Guides; Liverpool by Joseph Sharples
The Public Sculpture Of Liverpool by Terry Cavanagh
Liverpool Museums
Epstein

Alan Maycock 2007

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