Many people are surprised to learn that Parliament has an art collection; many are even more surprised to learn that the Collection holds over 8,000 works of art that range from medieval times to the present day.
The Collection depicts the history of the Palace of Westminster and the individuals and events that have shaped our democracy. When I became an MP in 1987 I too was surprised to learn about the Collection, but it did not take me long to come to value the important role the Collection plays recording the history and heritage of our democracy, and I love showing my constituents the Collection when they visit Westminster.
In 2011, I became the Chair of the Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Works of Art which advises the Speaker on matters relating to works of art in the House of Commons. One of my first initiatives as Chair was to ensure that the badly damaged Henry Moore sculpture that sits outside Parliament, Knife Edge Two Piece, was conserved. The sculpture was originally gifted to the nation by Henry Moore and the Contemporary Art Society in 1967. Moore himself chose the location of Abingdon Street Gardens as he felt that the Houses of Parliament was the right location to appreciate the work as it can be seen against the Palace’s gothic architecture. Sadly, when the work was donated no arrangements for its care were made, and indeed even the ownership of the sculpture was never made clear. Over the years, the sculpture had been left exposed to the elements and considerable amounts of graffiti had been scratched into its surface. The sculpture, of which there are only four in the world, was in a very sorry state.
The Parliamentary Curator’s Office brought this issue to the Committee’s attention and we felt that this part of our history was too valuable to let rust away. Henry Moore, one of the UK’s most important artists, had given this work to the public and had chosen for it to sit outside Parliament and we felt that it was only right that the public should continue to enjoy it. In 2011, I raised the issue with the then Minister responsible asking what action could be taken to ensure that this important gift to the nation could be properly cared for. After years of neglect and uncertainty, it was agreed that the House of Commons would take on the care and ownership of the sculpture and with financial support from the Henry Moore Foundation, Parliament was able to save this important public work of art. The sculpture is now part of the Parliamentary Art Collection and has a programme of care to ensure that it remains in good condition as per Moore’s intentions. As part of our commitment to the public we also produced a number of online resources to help illustrate the conservation process, including a video of its transformation.
We also produced a free walking tour of the sculptures around Parliament, including Knife Edge Two Piece, to explain more about the works of art in our Collection. If you’re in London during Parliament Week please download our tour and visit.
However, even if you can’t visit in person, we have ensured that a large proportion of our collection is available to view online, so visit: www.parliament.uk/art to see our democracy in a new way.
Parliament Week disclaimer
From time-to-time, we invite guests to contribute to the Parliament Week blog. This blog post reflects the opinions of its author. The views expressed should not be attributed to Parliament Week or the UK Parliament. If you have any comments, please email email@example.com