Object Details

Christ Ascendant

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Author: Anthony McIntosh
Copyright for Photograph:

Creative Commons

Location

Street:Victoria Drive
Town:Bognor Regis
Parish:Bognor Regis
Council:Arun District Council
County:West Sussex
Postcode:PO21
Location on Google Map
Object setting:Inside building
and in:Religious
Access is:Public
Location note:South transept of the Parish Church of St. Wilfred
The A-Z books used are A-Z East Sussex and A-Z West Sussex (Editions 1A 2005). Geographers' A-Z Map Company Ltd. Sevenoaks.
Previous location:Previously above the altar (moved 1977)

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Makers

Name : Uli Nimptsch
     Role:Sculptor

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General Information

Commissioned by: Anonymous parishoner
Unveiling date:07/05/1964
Work is:Extant
Owner custodian:Parish Church of St. Wilfred, Bognor Regis.
Description:Bronze statue of Christ ascending to heaven with arms raised upwards. Mounted high up on the wall

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Classification

Categories:Sculptural, Religious
Object type1:Statue
Object type2:Sculpture
Subject type1:Figurative
Subject type2:Portrait

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Object Parts

Part 1:Sculpture
     Material:Bronze
     Height (cm):250
     Width (cm):120
     Depth (cm):50

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Object Condition

Overall condition:Good
Risk assessment:No known risk
Date of on-site inspection:29/05/2008

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History

History:‘Statue of Christ Ascendant
As a result of its removal from above the high altar to the present obscure position in the south transept in 1977, visitors will probably seldom see one of the most generous and controversial gifts ever given to the church - the bronze statue of Christ Ascendant by Uli Nimptsch which was dedicated in 1964. Of those who have studied the statue, I suspect that many more like it than dislike it, but either way it should be recognised for what it is - an important work by one of Britain's most famous sculptors. As a result of a most unfortunate and extremely insensitive refurbishment of the church lighting around the statue in 2007, the space immediately above the statue is now festooned with spot lamps, not illuminating the statue, which is left in the dark, but other parts of the transept - all adding to the impression that this important and stunning work of art has yet to be fully appreciated. A faculty for 'the placing a statue of the Ascended Christ on the East Wall of the Sanctuary' was granted on 2nd August 1963. At the time, it was reported that the lady, who anonymously provided the £4,000 for the commission, wanted a work of art to adorn the east wall - a bare wall that she was quoted as saying ‘came between herself and her God’. The Dedication took place, fittingly, on Ascension Day, Thursday 7th May 1964 by Roger Wilson, Bishop of Chichester. A most valuable source for biographical details has been the article written by A.D. Fraser Jenkins for the Dictionary of National Biography and published in 1986, from which much of the following information has been obtained. Uli Nimptsch was born in Berlin on 22nd May 1897, the younger son and second of four children of Siegfried Nimptsch, a broker on the Berlin stock exchange, who was a descendant of the distinguished German poet Nikolaus Nimptsch von Lenau. Uli studied sculpture at the Berlin Academy and was awarded a Rome prize in 1928. He was based in Rome throughout the 1930s, although he visited Paris and returned to Germany in 1936-7. He lived in Bavaria but left Germany for the sake of his Jewish wife Ruth. He went to Paris and Rome before settling in London in 1939, where he arrived with no knowledge of English, and he took British nationality after the War. In Italy he had worked privately and there seems to be no record of public exhibitions there, but he is reported to have said that he studied his ‘masters the Greeks and Romans’. He was always a modeller rather than a carver and several of his works survive from this period. The life model - usually young - was his preferred subject, and despite working in Rome he preferred a naturalistic style. An acknowledged masterpiece from the 1930s is his 'Marietta' (1936-8), a full-length standing nude with her hands over her head, a cast of which was acquired by the City Art Gallery of Leeds in 1944. His wartime sculptures created in London were different, being small-scale high reliefs in bronze or lead, of narratives from the Bible or classical mythology. He returned to life studies and was not apparently influenced by British sculpture. He had one-man exhibitions at the Redfern Gallery (1942), Leeds (1944), Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool (1957), Stone Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne (1965) and finally at the Diploma Gallery of the Royal Academy (1973). Work was also included in some of the Arts Council's outdoor sculpture exhibitions in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1951 'Girl Sitting on a Stone Plinth' was acquired by the Arts Council's collection and his best-known work, 'Olympia' (1956), a reclining nude lying full length, supported on an arm and a leg, was acquired by the Tate Gallery (Chantrey Bequest) in the year that it was finished. Portrait busts were commissioned of Paul Oppé (1949, British Museum Print Room), Sir Mortimer Wheeler (1969, British Academy), and Viscount Brendan Bracken (Bracken House). A group ‘The Good Samaritan’ (1961) was commissioned by Selly Oak Hospital, Birmingham, and ‘Neighbourly Encounter’, (1961) by the London County Council for Silwood housing estate. His imposing statue of Lloyd George stands opposite to that of Sir Winston Churchill at the entrance lobby to the House of Commons. It was originally commissioned from Sir Jacob Epstein, but after his death was awarded to Nimptsch. The fact that the two statues - of Churchill, and Nimptsch's Lloyd George - flank the Churchill Arch leading into the Chamber of the Commons is also noteworthy. It was on 28th March, 1955 that Sir Winston Churchill rose to speak one last time in the House of Commons as Prime Minister to move approval of a statue of the late Member for Caernarvon Boroughs. The statue was completed in 1963 and it seems likely that our Christ Ascendant was Nimptsch's next commission. So here we have it -the sculptor of the nation's memorial to Lloyd George, the next in line for the commission after the death of Epstein, created our Christ Ascendant shortly afterwards. Nimptsch exhibited at the Royal Academy almost annually from 1957, was elected ARA in 1958, and RA in 1967. He bequeathed ten of his sculptures to the Academy, together with the portrait of himself by Oskar Kokoschka who had been a friend in Britain. After the war he had persevered with the subject he most admired, in work that is consistent over forty years. His best nude studies ‘possess an admirable sense of the conflict between liveliness and restraint, and few other sculptors in Britain took on this subject with such seriousness or such a sense of decorum’ (Dictionary of National Biography). In 1925 he married Ruth Berthe (died 1974), the daughter of Max Steinthal of Berlin, a director of Deutsches Bank, and he had one son. A trawl through the net for other information was not too productive but I was able to ascertain that there is a pastel portrait of Uli Nimptsch in the National Portrait Gallery by Haidee Becker (NPG 6464, 1976 but not currently on display). Also, the Cafe and Restaurant in the Royal Academy opened by Norman Shaw in 1885 and refurbished by Theo Crosby in 1990 'features celebrated murals by Fred Appleyard, Harold Speed, Gilbert Spencer and Leonard Roseman and striking sculptures by Uli Nimptsch and Alfred Turner'. The Tate Gallery website also catalogues 'Olympia' (T00097, 1953-6) and 'Seated Girl' (T00277, 1958).
Removal of the Statue from above the Altar (to the South Transept) in 1977:
The steps taken to move the statue from its commanding position over the altar to the present obscure position in the south transept started when the decision was made to close St. John's Church in London Road (demolished 1972) and plans were being made for the transfer of fixtures and fittings including the reredos to St. Wilfrid's Church. A problem loomed because the reredos had been enlarged some years before with a removable canopy or triptych and clearly something had to give if the reredos was put in place below the statue. At a meeting of the PCC on 24th November 1971 it was agreed 'that the reredos should be brought over and put on the wall as now is, and that subsequently, if necessary, the figure could be raised or removed' (WSRO ref 24/14/6). Clearly once the reredos was in place there were suggestions that the statue should be moved. The PCC meeting held on 3rd July 1972 referred to a discussion about completion of the reredos following a recent questionnaire but it was agreed that this should await the completion of the church (WSRO Par 24/14/6). The controversy continued until a faculty was granted on the 7th March 1977 'for permission to remove the figure of Christ Ascendant from the East Wall, to enable the reredos transferred from St. John's church in 1971 to be completed by the addition of the canopy' (WSRO ref. Acc. 12902). A final ironic twist to the substitution story is that the reredos was provided by public subscription in 1919 as a war memorial but the commemorative plaque from St. John's church was not reinstalled with the reredos (but the plaque has now been found and shown on the reredos page); also an exhaustive search at County Records Office has failed to reveal the granting of any faculty for the installing of the reredos in St. Wilfrid's church! If no faculty was granted then the installation was in effect not legalised until a faculty granted on 11th May 1988 for permission to raise the reredos by six inches. It is amazing to me that a major work by one of Britain's most famous sculptors could be treated so shabbily (apparently there was even a recent investigation into disposing of the statue at a value of not much more than its scrap value in bronze). For an artist to be able to command a fee of £4,000 (in 1964 a large house in the vicinity could be purchased for this sum i.e. a present day value of around £300,000) he had to be very highly thought of indeed and it is worth noting that Nimptsch's previous commission was for an over life-size statue of David Lloyd George in the House of Commons, and completed in 1963 - a commission originally awarded to Sir Jacob Epstein but transferred to Nimptsch on Epstein's death in 1959.'
Peter Green

THE DEDICATION OF MR. ULI NIMPTSCH’S CHRIST ASCENDANT
ASCENSION DAY, 7th MAY, 1964 at 7:30pm
by
THE LORD BISHOP OF CHICHESTER

ORDER OF SERVICE
Procession of Choirs and Clergy from S. Wilfrid's Hall.
The Bishop's Procession from the Sacristry.
Festal Evensong - the Vicar.
The Responses.
Psalm 24.
First Lesson: Daniel 7 (9. 10, 13, 14) - The Archdeacon of Chichester.
Office Hymn EH 147.
The Magnificat (Tertius Noble).
Second Lesson: Hebrews I - The Archdeacon of Chichester.
Nunc Dimittis (Tentius Noble).
Creed, Responses, Collects.
The Anthem Jubilate Den (Stanford).
The Act of Dedication - The Lord Bishop of Chichester
The Prayers - The Rev. J. Twycross-Raines.
Hymn RH 476.
The Sermon - The Lord Bishop of Chichestor.
Processional EH 143 (Monk).
Collect and Blessing - The Lord Bishop of Chichester.
Organ Voluntary.

(http://www.wilfrid.com/church/nimptsch.htm)

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References


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Photographs





Author: Anthony McIntosh
Copyright: Creative Commons




Author: Anthony McIntosh
Copyright: Creative Commons




Author: Anthony McIntosh
Copyright: Creative Commons

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