Crystal Palace Park: Sphinxes to be painted Victorian terracotta red

Published Friday, 8 July 2016

Work person painting sculpture of sphinx

The six Grade II listed sphinxes in Crystal Palace Park are currently undergoing extensive conservation and repair work, thanks to joint funding from the Mayor of London, Historic England and Bromley Council.

Executive Member for Renewal and Recreation Councillor Peter Morgan said: “The painting of these striking sphinxes is the final stage in returning them to their former Victorian glory. The conservation of the sphinxes and south terrace steps project is just part of the £2.4m project in the park that will include renovation of the dinosaurs and building a new café.” 

Historic England’s Planning Director, Nigel Barker, said: “We’re delighted to be supporting the conservation of these majestic grade II listed sculptures. The six sphinxes were once ‘gatekeepers’ to the Crystal Palace, and they remain a much-loved feature of the park today. The terracotta red finish will reinstate their original mid-19th century colouring and help visitors to better appreciate their story and importance”. 

The sphinxes were cast based on an original red granite Egyptian sphinx in the Louvre, Paris, and were produced as part of the grand terraces that provided the setting for the Crystal Palace when it moved from Hyde Park to Sydenham in 1852. 

In recent years they have declined in to poor condition and have been on Historic England’s Heritage ‘At Risk’ register. In 2014 local people identified the conservation of the sphinxes and the dilapidated south terrace steps as a priority for park funds. Therefore, as part of a £2.4m programme of improvements, in March 2016 works began on site to restore the sphinxes to their former glory. 

The works are being undertaken by conservation specialists Skillington Workshop with advice from an expert in the field, David Odgers, and overseen by Historic Building Consultants, The Morton Partnership. As part of the project Historic England has worked with a group of experts to identify the steps in conservation that need to be undertaken to ensure the best outcome. As part of this process it was identified that the sphinxes must be painted using specialist mineral paint to conserve them fully and protect them from future decay.

Extensive research and paint analysis has been undertaken, in partnership with the Crystal Palace Museum, which has found conclusively that they were originally painted a Victorian terracotta red, to match the red granite from the Sphinx in the Louvre. Experts have been able to take original paint samples from the sphinxes and examine them under low magnification which has revealed that the sphinxes were painted this colour repeatedly until the 1900s. The exact colour of this paint has been matched and the painting process will start shortly. 

The Chair of the park’s Heritage and Environment Group Malcolm Woods said: “These delightful sculptures capture the essence of the wonder and exoticism that was the Crystal Palace, reinforced by the red ochre paint finish that intensive research has revealed was their original colour scheme. The restoration of the Italian Terraces is a much greater project but bringing the sphinxes back to life is a necessary first step in that process”. 

During the coming weeks, visitors to Crystal Palace Park will be able to watch the conservation of the sphinxes in progress, and see their transformation first-hand as the sphinxes become resplendent in their new red coats. The work is expected to be completed by September 2016. 


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