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New lease of life for public art as post-war masterpieces set to get listed status

Forty-one pieces of post-war public art across England are to be given listed status in a move heritage experts hope shows the public has grown to appreciate works that have not always had popular appeal.

Erected in the wake of the Second World War in an attempt to breathe some life back into England's public spaces, the sculptures celebrate everything from the women's peace movement to the spirit of electricity to Guy the Gorilla, once a major attraction at London Zoo.

2MS Series No 1 by Bernard Schottlander Credit: Historic England

Not all the sculptures were popular when they were constructed - in fact many were considered ugly and avant-garde.

But listed status, which will be confer by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, will be a recognition of how the works changed the look and feel of public spaces around the country in the years following World War Two.

3B Series No. 1 by Bernard Schottlander Credit: Historic England

Tracey Crouch, the heritage minister, said: "It is only right that these fantastic pieces are listed.

"Not only are they magnificent sculptures but they are also an important part of our history, capturing the mood of Britain after World War Two."

Historic England, the public body that advised on the listings, welcomed the move, having warned that some works had been destroyed or lost.

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Donkey by Willi Soukop Credit: Historic England

Among the works to be granted listed status is one by Anthony Gormley, the first by the artist to be listed, which sits in Maygrove Peace Park in London.

Another by Henry Moore sits outside the Houses of Parliament.

Three of the sculptures are by Barbara Hepworth, including her memorial to Dag Hammaskjold, the late UN secretary-general who was killed in a plane crash in 1961.

Single Form (Memorial) by Barbara Hepworth Credit: Historic England

Other sculptures includes David Wynne's hulking marble Gorilla sits in Crystal Palace Park and Geoffrey Clarke's cast bronze sculpture 'The Spirit of Electricity', which was originally commissioned by Thorn Electrical Industries for their London headquarters.

Roger Bowdler, director of listing at Historic England, said the sculptures "deserve celebration".

These sculptures were commissioned and created for everybody and have become a precious national collection of art which we can all share. They enrich our lives, bring art to everyone and deserve celebration.

– Roger Bowdler, director of listing at Historic England
Gorilla by David Wynne Credit: Historic England

In the years after the Second World War public sculptures were considered symbols of optimism and progress, promoted through national exhibitions like the 1951 Festival of Britain.

While the post-war sculptures have not always won the hearts of the public, with Grade II listed status they may now get the attention they deserve.