The Sunbathers at the Festival of Britain
The Sunbathers at the Festival of Britain © Historic England AA51/06841
The Sunbathers at the Festival of Britain © Historic England AA51/06841

Festival of Britain Sculpture Returns to London Waterloo

'The Sunbathers', a unique sculpture that was originally created for the Festival of Britain has returned to London Waterloo station after almost 70 years, thanks to a partnership between Network Rail and Historic England.

Created by the Hungarian émigré-artist Peter Laszlo Peri for the Festival of Britain in 1951, the sculpture consists of two terracotta figures lying beside each other.

The sculpture greeted Festival visitors when they arrived as it was mounted on the wall at York Road, close to the station’s entrance.

The figures – made from ‘Pericrete’ which is a special kind of concrete created by the artist as a cheaper alternative to casting in bronze – were presumed lost until they were rediscovered in 2016 at the Clarendon Hotel in London, owned by the O’Donnell Family after Historic England launched a public call out to find lost pieces of post-war public art.

'The Sunbathers' was restored and put back on public display in 2017 at London’s Southbank Centre and is now moving closer to its original site.

The sculpture was unveiled on Monday 24 August by Network Rail chair Sir Peter Hendy, CBE at London Waterloo station where it will stay for five years for passengers to enjoy.

We are delighted that Peter Laszlo Peri’s 'The Sunbathers' will be on public show through their installation at Waterloo station, very close to their original site. 'The Sunbathers' have a longstanding connection to the area, so we are grateful for our partners at Network Rail for facilitating the move. We hope it enables a wide variety of people to see and enjoy this modern masterpiece.
Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive Historic England
It is incredible to see the sculpture return to London Waterloo after almost 70 years, where hopefully millions of passengers will have the opportunity to see it as they return to the railway. We look forward to working with Historic England and our partners to have artwork for passengers and the public to enjoy in our other stations.
Sir Peter Hendy, Chair Network Rail

Patrick O’Donnell, whose family owned the hotel where the artwork was discovered, spoke about 'The Sunbathers' at the time of their rediscovery, but died before the sculpture could be conserved. He remembered the sculpture on display at the Festival: 

I only recall two things about the Festival of Britain, one was the Skylon soaring above the Southbank and the other is 'The Sunbathers'. They made a real impression on me and of course, they’ve been part of the hotel’s own history for some time.
Patrick O'Donnell

The Sunbathers was part of the 1951 Festival of Britain on London’s Southbank. The event was a national celebration that inspired a whole generation, showcasing the best in art, design, craft and sport.