‘Winged Figure’ is a 1963 artwork by the British artist Barbara Hepworth, it was commissioned by the retailer the John Lewis Partnership and is displayed outside their flagship Oxford Street store above the Holles Street entrance.
The John Lewis store in Oxford Street had been badly damaged during World War Two and by the 1950s it was decided to extensively renovate the store. The firm of Slater & Uren was commissioned and the new store was opened in 1961.
At this time John Lewis approached many artists to propose designs for the site on the South East side of the store. However all were rejected, including an initial proposal from Hepworth, ‘Three Forms in Echelon’. a bronze marquette of which is now on display at Tate St Ives.
The brief itself asked for a work that expressed “the idea of common ownership and common interests in a partnership of thousands of workers”, and Hepworth’s second submission was for an enlargement of her 1957 work ‘Winged Figure 1’, this was accepted and the finished artwork was unveiled in 1963.
The work itself is just under 6m high, cast in aluminium and takes the form of an abstract view of the wings from a classical angel statue or paining, the wings are then joined together by ten steel rods that are twisted together in the centre. Having been in situ for over 50 years, and having only received a sympathetic refurbishment in 2013, the work has a well patterned patina to it.
The effect of the sun on the work, and the shadow it casts, of course varies throughout the day and depending on the time of year. It is a work that never really looks exactly the same, every time it is viewed it is subtly different.
Most shoppers perhaps don’t look up far enough or have not given the statue a second thought. But it is one of the key works of British modernism and is in open view of the public at all times. A throwback to a time when shops would use unique artworks to entice people in rather than just gaudy advertising screens or celebrity endorsement.