Gorilla is a sculpture in Crystal Palace Park created by David Wynne. The sculpture was based on the real life ‘Guy the Gorilla’ and was positioned in 1962. At the time Guy was a well known and long term resident of London Zoo. It was commissioned as part of the London County Council Arts Patronage Scheme.
David Wynne was an artist who was fascinated with animal forms. Originally commissioned in 1959 he had at this time been particularly interested in the behavior and movement of animals. He would spend lots of time as a result at London Zoo sketching and observing. For the commission he decided to focus on Guy.
Guy the Gorilla and David Wynne
First brought to the zoo on 5 November 1947, Guy was a Western Lowland Gorilla from Cameroon. Given that the day he arrived was Guy Fawke’s Day this is where he got his name. David Wynne would spend time studying him and working to gain his trust. Eventually settling on the work he wanted to create, it would take nine months to sculpt the final piece. Completed in 1961 and called ‘Gorilla’ the site at Crystal Palace was chosen the year later. It would bring Wynne widespread attention and firmly established him as one of Britain’s foremost sculptors.
Commissioned by the London County Council. The sculpture was a part of the Arts Patronage Scheme previously established in 1956. It was meant to place high quality public art into communities. Many were destined for newly built housing estates and meant to enhance the cultural environment of these dramatic new building projects. Sculpture, far from the more commemorative styles of pre-war Britain, became seen as being an important aesthetic contribution to the public realm.
Gorilla in Crystal Palace Park
Gorilla, positioned within Crystal Palace Park was a bit different. A firm favourite with local children, it still stands adjacent to the lower lake. Created out of Belgian marble it was Grade II listed in 2016. According to Historic England, this was due to a combination of it being of “high artistic quality, powerfully composed and skillfully detailed”. Additionally the historical context of it being “representative of the continuity of the figurative tradition in the post-war period” recognised it’s place in art history.
The sculpture itself shows Guy resting on all fours. Wynne intended that the sculpture convey ‘all his feelings of awe and terror and love for this mighty beast’. Additionally he wanted the work to be sufficientely robust for children to climb on. Many of the works created as part of the Arts Patronage Scheme would become familiar parts of their communities. The idea therefore that children would clamber up and around them would have been understood given their very public placements. Even today children do so and their parents reminisce about when they too clambered on Guy’s powerful back.
Gorilla is a sculpture by David Wynne in Crystal Palace Park. It was commissioned in 1959 and completed in 1961 before being placed in Crystal Palace Park in 1962. It was part of the London County Council Arts Patronage Scheme and was Grade II listed in 2016. Other sculptures from the period included works from Henry Moore, Elisabeth Fink and Frank Dobson. For more information on the sculpture you can also look at the Invisible Palace Instagram site.