For all those that don’t know, the picture I posted on Monday is of a statue in the courtyard of the British Library in London and I posted it whilst sitting inside said building. My visit was my first to the British Library since it moved out of the British Museum and having been one of those privileged to have held a readers ticket to the BM reading room, the one where Karl Marx wrote Das Kapital,
I was very curious to see what had been created to replace that historical location.
I was also keen to see the statue in real life, I had already seen pictures, because it has very special personal connotations for me, which I will now explain.
The statue is a three dimensional realisation of William Blake’s print of Isaac Newton created by the Italo-Scottish artist Eduardo Paolozzi.
I discovered the poems of William Blake when I was sixteen years old and fell in love with them, their author and his prints and drawings. Blake’s view of the world perfectly encapsulates one aspect of my own personality and he will always remain my favourite poet. In the same period of my life I became fascinated by Isaac Newton the (co-)creator of the calculus that was my favourite occupation at the time. This fascination eventually led by a round about route to my becoming a historian of mathematics and to this blog. After many years of reading and studying him I think that Isaac was probably an arsehole but I still find him fascinating. Blake’s print combines my two contradictory (and believe you me you don’t get much more contradictory than Blake and Newton) teenage heroes and I have had a framed copy of it hanging on my wall for years.
This brings us to Paolozzi’s bronze three-dimensional rendition of Blake. Given my attachment to the original I would find the statue interesting whoever had created it but its being from Eduardo makes it very personal. What now follows is not name-dropping but just a piece of personal history.
When I was a child Eduardo was one of my friends, a very special friend. Eduardo lived in a small hamlet on the Essex marshes that was formally part of the village where my parents lived although actually about two miles away. I learnt to swim a couple of hundred yards from Eduardo’s cottage and when my mother had to go into hospital as I was ten years old my sister and I lived with Eduardo and his wife Frieda for three weeks. Eduardo, a great bear of a man, was like a big kid and during those three weeks the two of us played with his collection of toy robots, flew his RAF weather kite and generally had a great time; those three weeks remain one of my favourite childhood memories. Later in my teens I went to the local grammar school travelling the fifteen miles by train and riding the one and a half miles to the local railway station on my bike. Once a week Eduardo would take the same train to London and we used to race the stretch from the village to the station.
I didn’t realise till much later in life how important/famous/significant Eduardo was as an artist. For me he was just a very special friend and on Monday I made a small pilgrimage to the British Library to see my friends version of my favourite artistic image; I wasn’t disappointed.
Addendum: National Library of Scotland: Art Collections: Eduardo Paolozzi and Isaac Newton