The Royal Academy of Arts Bronze Exhibition

By Laurie Price

From 15th September the Royal Academy of Arts has hosted an exhibition of bronze sculptures. Fortunately the metalwork conservation students managed to make a group visit during its last week. Although extremely lucky for us, it seemed most people in London seemed to have the same idea.

The exhibition showed a wide range of bronze artefacts divided into a multitude of different rooms. To begin with, we entered into a vast darkened room with a statue spot lit in the centre. This was the Greek Dancing Satyr with eerie white alabaster eyes. In its lifetime, this piece had succumbed to the effects of a marine environment before being put on the plinth in front of us. I think the majority of West Dean students spent the most time analysing this sculpture, obviously excited by the prospect of an entire display of bronze objects.

It was fascinating to make comparisons between bronzes made in different geographical positions, at different times and the different styles of the artefacts. I was particularly interested in Renaissance figures aping the same elegant draping and muscularity as classic white marble sculptures characteristic of ancient sophistication and style. The variation in patina was definitely appealing to the students, whose main occupation is the treatment and analysis of the development of such colours.

Although the focus of the show was on bronze sculptures, there was also a useful display of the various techniques used to cast bronzes. There were step-by-step guides to each of the processes as well as a film to show the lost wax casting method in action. Another film accompanied this featuring various casting works around the world. It was startling to see molten metal dripping from moulds right next to a pair of bare feet, a health and safety nightmare for the United Kingdom.

Overall, the conservation students thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition and their time in London. There was even enough time for a proper all day breakfast at lunch and a quick root around the jewellery, ironwork and silver galleries at the Victoria and Albert Museum.