Few London streets can feel more miserable than Euston Road. With six lanes of roaring traffic, this is one of the noisiest and smoggiest thoroughfares in central London.
But it’s not entirely evil. Hidden among the buildings of Euston Road is a veritable art gallery of world-class sculpture. Follow the trail above to find works by such notable artists as Henry Moore, Eduardo Paolozzi and lots of Antony Gormley.
1. Henry Moore, Large Spindle Piece (1974)
One of the more recent additions to the area, unveiled in 2014, Moore’s characteristically twisting piece takes pride of place on the King’s Cross station forecourt.
2. Paul Day, The Meeting Place (2007)
Paul Day’s representation of two towering lovers is supposed to capture the romance of the train station, with its tearful goodbyes, happy reunions and tortured, Brief Encounter-style affairs. Many Londoners, though, profess a strong dislike to the piece, which dominates the southern end of the station. More loveable are the idiosyncratic relief sculptures around the base, by the same artist, which show typical scenes from station life. The Daily Mail, poor, delicate lambs, found them ‘shocking’.
St Pancras contains other works of art, including a much-loved statue of John Betjeman and the ‘Terrace Wires’ project, which dangles temporary commissions from the ceiling. In truth, the best art here is the station itself.
3. Antony Gormley, Witness (2011)
Gormley features prominently in this art trail. Two of his works can be found in the forecourt of the British Library, and both are subtle. This here chair was commissioned in 2011 to mark 90 years of English PEN. The empty chair is symbolic of that charity’s cause: defending the rights of persecuted writers around the world.
4. Antony Gormley, Planets (2002)
At first glance, you probably wouldn’t notice these sculptural forms. At second glance, a ring of stones might enter your cognizance. A closer look reveals strange humanoid forms wrapped around the rock. There’s a hidden depth to this display. Each boulder was formed in a successive ice age, spanning a period of 650 million years. The figures on the rocks are representations of Gormley’s friends and family, who hugged the stone while he traced around them. It is said to be a reflection on ‘the timeless connections between man and environment and the physical properties and natural elements that they share’.
5. Eduardo Paolozzi, Newton, After William Blake (1995)
One of the most famous modern sculptures in London. Paolozzi’s Newton is, typically for the artist and appropriately for the subject, part man and part machine. It’s based on an illustration of Newton by William Blake. This fusion of three British geniuses — Newton, Blake, Paolozzi — is a fitting symbol for the great library. At the time of writing, you can even hear the sculpture speak in the voice of Simon Russell Beale, thanks to the Talking Statues project.
Many other works of art can be found inside the British Library in both temporary and permanent exhibitions. As a bonus diversion, head around the back of the library down Midland Road to see the new Francis Crick Institute. A towering sculpture called Paradigm by Conrad Shawcross guards its entrance.
6. Keith Grant, St Joan (1971/2002)
Serving as a symbol for the Shaw Theatre, this towering metal construction stands just across the road from Newton. It’s inspired by the play Saint Joan by George Bernard Shaw, who lived in St Pancras for a time. It’s said to represent a knight’s helmet in abstract form, surrounded by bows and lances.
7. John Charles Felix Rossi, St Pancras Caryatids (1822)
While most of the work on our trail is relatively modern, these beauties on the side of St Pancras New Church have a distinctly classical demeanor. They’re only a couple of hundred years old, but these female forms borrow heavily from the sculptures that once supported the roof of the Erechtheion in Athens. The originals still exist. Five of the sisters are in the Acropolis Museum, recently restored. The sixth can be seen in the British Museum, part of the disputed collection known as the Elgin Marbles.
The church crypt serves as an occasional art gallery, and is always worth a look if your visit coincides with an exhibition.
8. Eduardo Paolozzi, Piscator (1980)
An earlier work by Paolozzi squats outside Euston station. Known as Piscator, after a German theatre director, the work looks like a comingling of rock and aluminium. It also makes for a handy bench away from the main crowds of the station.
9. Antony Gormley, Feel (2005)
Wellcome Collection is reached via a needlessly hazardous pedestrian crossing over Euston Road. It contains immeasurable riches of art, science and medical history. In fact, if you’re not yet familiar with the venue, stop reading this article right now, check out its website, and plot a visit as soon as possible.
As a token representation of its permanent art collection, we’ve chosen another Antony Gormley (here pictured with a lagomorphic friend). It’s one of the more striking pieces — hanging upside down above the entrance. We’re not sure what it means, but we’re glad it’s there.
10. Thomas Heatherwick, Bleigiessen (2005)
Wellcome Collection is the public face of the Wellcome Trust, which lives in an even larger building next door. The western end is filled by a giant sculpture by Thomas Heatherwick — he of Garden Bridge, New Routemaster and Olympic Cauldron fame. It’s known as Bleigiessen, after a German custom of pouring molten lead into cold water to create strange forms. The multi-storey artwork is usually off-limits to the public, but can be glimpsed through the windows above Euston Square tube. Occasional open days give better access, and you should take the glass lift alongside to get a full view of this modern marvel.
Wellcome Trust’s street windows house temporary artworks, usually with a scientific or medical theme — like these recent eyeballs:
11. Gary Hume, Pecking Bird (2013)
The western end of Euston Road (before it becomes Marylebone Road) is now dominated by the Regent’s Place development. It’s a typical 21st century mix of glass-fronted office space and squeaky clean public-private realm. While such ‘campuses’ often feel cold and soulless, Regent’s Place at least has a decent collection of public art to explore. The most obvious, owing to its size and intensity, is this multistorey bird.
Head down into Warren Street tube, across the road, to see one of the Victoria Line’s best tiling patterns.
12. Antony Gormley, Reflection (2001)
And finally… we have to give the last word to Euston Road’s genius loci Antony Gormley. His fourth piece comprises two metal casts of the sculptor’s body, staring as though in reflection on either side of a glass curtain wall.
Regent’s Place contains at least another eight works of art. Rather than list them all out here, we direct you to the district’s own art trail, online in PDF form.
All photos by the author.