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2002 Sculpture celebrates the old RMA

Photographs by Ted Beck

A re-enactment ceremony of the first contingent of children from General Hewett's military orphanage on the Isle of Wight to enter the Royal Military Asylum in 1803 was held on the premises of the old RMA building, Chelsea, on the 19th March 2003. Another equally important event took place that day with the unveiling of a statue ensemble commissioned by Cadogan Estates to mark the bicentenary of the 1803 opening of the RMA. This was a pair of statues cast in bronze, the work of Allister Bowtell, a sculptor and portrait painter who has executed commissions in England and the U. S. A. He worked for some years as a model maker and special effects designer for film, television and advertising. Allister Bowtell lives in London.

The artist supplied Headmaster John Cummings with a complete set of photographs of all the processes involved in a project of this kind. These photographs were put on display in the school's Art Department.

The idea of obtaining a duplicate set of bronze figures for display at Dover was discussed with General Meier, Chairman of the Board of Governors. The cost, estimated at £35-40,000, was considered prohibitive.

Tablet on which the RMA girl is seated
Photograph by Ted Beck
Awaiting the arrival of Prince Andrew, Duke of York, for the unveiling ceremony.
With permission of Mr. Bowtell, the article here reprinted was first published in The Whistler magazine for the Chelsea Arts Club. Allister Bowtell was Chairman of the Chelsea Arts Club for three years.

The Whistler is the magazine of the Chelsea Arts Club founded by Whistler and his friends over a hundred years ago. Hence the name. James McNeil Whistler, an ex-patriot American citizen and West Point cadet, left the United States when he was twenty. He studied painting in Paris and then moved to Chelsea where, according to the notes Allister Bowtell provided, "...upset lots of people including John Ruskin the critic."

Of the artist Whistler, Bowtell wote, "Whistler who was in the habit of titling his pictures Symphony... Variation ... Harmony... Study... etc. was told to resign from the Chelsea Arts Club for the usual non payment of his subscription. He offered a picture in lieu. He received a letter from the then Chairman which said, 'Mr Whistler it is NOT a variation in white and brown that is required, but an arrangement in gold and silver.' Pity we didn't take the picture."

Photographs by Hugh Gilbert
My Children
by Allister Bowtell

About two years ago, Gill Nunn rang me to ask if I would talk to Stuart Corbyn of the Cadogan Estates about something to go in the new Duke of York's development opposite Peter Jones.

Wearing yellow hard hats and wellington boots, Stuart took me on a tour of the building site and showed me all the exciting plans.

I heard that several hundred years ago the Cadogan family had sold the site to the Army, and had only just brought it back from them. In 1803, the then Duke of York founded a school on the site. The Duke of York's Royal Military Asylum, and it was there for over a hundred years until it was relocated in Dover – where it still is, celebrating its double century this year.

I began to form the idea of a pupil in about 1820, leap-frogging over a Chelsea bollard, trying to impress a girl sitting on a plinth who is pretending not to see him.

With considerable courage, Stuart Corbyn instructed me to proceed.

The school in Dover had a museum with uniforms, paintings and prints, so off I set with my trusty camera and was entertained by the headmaster and a school dinner (a much better one than when I was at school) with the senior pupils.

The next problem was the bollard. With the help of David LeLay and the Chelsea Society, I found a perfect 1814 bollard near Hans Street. Gabby and Chris Nash took a a mould of it, which was then cast into fibreglass on to which I could build the armature for the clay sculpture.

At the same time, I was liaising with Robert Meyers and Elizabeth Banks Associates, the landscape designers, to get the plinth for the girl statue to blend with the detailed ground plan. When the measurements were finalised, I built a wooden pattern again for my to model the mud girl on.

About six months later, the muds were approved, and Gabby and Chris Nash could get on with the casting in bronze.

The next decision to be made was what words were to be carved on the plinth. The school, of course, wanted and entire literary masterpiece, but the surface area of the site wasn't big enough. Stewart settled on a subtle and discrete few words, and I asked Richard Kindersley to design and carve the layout on the stone plinth.

Prince Andrew, Duke of York, who was introduced by Lord Cadogan, opened the site on the 19th March, accompanied by a costume masquerade provided by the school.

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