The independent London newspaper

Search for university’s missing sculpture

Ralph Beyer's war memorial was commissioned in 1956

30 July, 2020 — By Tom Foot

The memorial vanished

SOMEWHERE out there, she sits waiting to be found: a woman with no name, a sculpture at the centre of a decades-old vanishing art mystery.

But the university which commissioned the stone memorial in the first place – way back in 1956 – has not given up hope that she will be seen again.

This week, Birkbeck College in Malet Street, Bloomsbury, appealed for help in finding the 1.2 metre Ralph Beyer’s war memorial.

It had been created to remember students who had died or were injured in the Second World War, but the university’s files show that it had been criticised at the time for not looking like a memorial and not bearing the names of those it was supposed to be honouring.

Big cash “no questions asked” rewards for lost or stolen artworks need to go through official channels, due to global concerns among law enforcement agencies that this would increase the incentive for theft.

Birkbeck said however said it would stump up a £20 Amazon voucher to anyone who locates it or reveals its fate.

History professor Joanna Bourke said: “It is an important part of Birkbeck’s past and it commemorates the contribution that our students made to the Second World War. So we would very much like to know what happened to it. We have not been able to find any records about its removal.”

“How can a large, very heavy sculpture made of solid stone simply disappear?”

She added: “Not everyone had approved. Some commentators complained that the war memorial was ‘at pains’ to conceal its identity as a war memorial.”

Professor Bourke has researched and written a history of Birkbeck ahead of the college’s 200th anniversary in 2023.

The sculpture, which is thought to have been made in the 1950s, is carved from Warwickshire Hornton stone.

The university said the design depicted a woman sitting in a sorrowful pose and “her limbs and body are disproportionally larger than her head”, suggesting grief.

Mr Beyer, who died in 2008 aged 86, fled from Nazi Germany to England with family in 1937.

When he was 16, his mother later returned to Germany during the war and was killed in Ausch­witz. Unable to speak English, Mr Beyer found work with the artist Eric Gill.

After the war, he became friends with famous art and architecture historian Nikolaus Pevsner, who lectured on art and architecture at Birkbeck and who supported the commissioning of the sculpture.

Mr Beyer went on to become a famous artist in his own right and designed and carved the lettering at Coventry Cathedral. It is not known when precisely his work for Birkbeck went missing.

To claim the voucher or pass on any info, contact with the subject line “Missing war memorial”.


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