Ercole

RAF Memorial, Victoria Embankment, London

Ercole Felipo Giacomo Parlanti was born in Rome in 1871. As with his older brother Alessandro, Ercole worked at the Nelli foundry in Rome before moving to England and working alongside his brother. Ercole married Adele Milanopolo in 1903 in London and, unlike Alessandro, his three children were all born in England, Corrado (Conrad) in 1903, Mario in 1906 and Olga in 1910, all of them born in Fulham, London. Around 1917 Ercole started up his own foundry at Beaumont Works, Beaumont Road, West Kensington, London. These were substantial premises containing a factory, buildings, offices and a yard totalling about seven thousand seven hundred square feet.

A letter dated February 4th 1918 from Ercole to the architect Sir Robert Lorimer in Edinburgh concerning the casting of Louis Reid Deuchars’s Glenelg War Memorial shows, at present, the earliest that the foundry at Beaumont Works can be traced back to. Clearly, Ercole’s new bronze foundry had begun casting bronzes whilst WWI was still raging. Despite Ercole asking Lorimer for the opportunity to quote for the casting, it was eventually carried out at The Albion Art Foundry Ltd., late and over budget.

One of the earliest patrons of the Beaumont Works was the Croatian sculptor Ivan Mestrovic, who had four bronzes cast between March 1918 and March 1919. An early large casting was that of Jacob Epstein’s Risen Christ (worked on by a young George Mancini who was an apprentice at Parlanti’s at the time). This bronze is now in the possession of the National Galleries of Scotland. Ercole went on to cast many of Epstein’s 1920s busts.

When deciding on what foundry to use, sculptors reckon on any number of factors. Some keep to a foundry through loyalty, sometimes it is price, at other times availability. The artist Clare Sheridan tells, through her diaries, how on one occasion in 1920 she chose Ercole to cast the bronze busts of two Russian leaders over Fiorini simply because Ercole was able to promise the finished pieces by the time required.

In 1921 Parlanti’s foundry was subject to labour troubles which delayed production. An article in the New Zealand Herald of 5th May 1921 told of how the dispute had delayed casting of the Burns statue by Pomeroy destined for Auckland. Whether this was simply not enough workers available, or a dispute, is not known.

The end of WWI sparked a massive demand for war memorials, and Ercole was inundated with orders from worldwide. It was at this time that Charles Gaskin, a metal chaser at Parlanti’s, decided to start up The Art Bronze Foundry of Fulham in 1922, taking some of the customers with him! Art Bronze is still very much alive and well.

1923 saw the casting of what was probably Ercole’s crowning moment, Reid-Dick’s Golden Eagle which sits atop the R.A.F.Memorial on London’s Embankment (see photo at the top of the page). The Eagle has a wing-span of twelve feet and weighs four tons. The monument was unveiled by the future Edward VIII and George VI and made the front page of national newspapers at the time. Looking out over the river Thames its position, opposite the London Eye, remains one of the most prominent in all of London. The Fulham Chronicle, when writing about the Eagle in 1923, stated ‘Through the activity and technical skill of the Art Bronze Foundry in Beaumont Road in West Kensington, Fulham has already earned world-wide distinction as the birth-place of noted Memorials’.

From ‘The Sphere’ 19 May 1923
RAF Memorial in Parlanti’s foundry.

The above image of the RAF Memorial in Parlanti’s foundry was kindly supplied by Elaine Bending whose grandfather, Albert Edward Lunnon, was employed at the foundry at the time. Albert is standing 2nd from left. Elaine has provided a brief biography of ‘Burt’ as he was known, and this is reproduced underneath. This information is really valuable as, given the passage of time, direct links to those artisans such as Burt are becoming harder to find. My grandfather Burt Lunnon, as he was known, was an apprentice at the Parlanti Art Bronze Foundry before and after World War 1. He learnt all the skills in this delicate and professional work, making moulds in sand, melting metal at high temperatures, and finely finishing and polishing the finished art work. In 1914 the World War broke out and Bert was 22 years old. Like all young men he was called up to fight. He joined the Royal Army Medical Corps.
After the war he returned to work for Ercole Parlanti and worked on many pieces including the magnificent RAF war memorial of The Eagle mounted on a globe decorated with the signs of the zodiac. This piece stands in one of the most prominent sites in London, on the embankment directly opposite the London Eye.
In the 1930’s my grandfather worked in another foundry in London and as a skilled man he obtained work from Jacob Epstein, whom he greatly admired. In his retirement, he undertook further art bronze foundry work which included art work by Henry Moore.
Burt loved classical art and was never keen on modern art, including Henry Moore! As children, he took my brothers and I to Italy three times which included visits to the Ufrizi art gallery in Florence and Pompei, an unforgettable experience. He also loved classical music and was an accomplished pianist. Burt went on to become a director of Fitzroy Art Foundry Limited in London. He was well known in casting circles, The Art Bronze Foundry in Fulham (who cast themselves exclusively in lost wax) contracted sand casting work out to Burt.

Albert Edward ‘Burt’ Lunnon

A short walk from the Golden Eagle, still on The Embankment, is Brook Hitch’s National Submarine War Memorial, cast at Beaumont Works. Old servicemen still come to this memorial, which plays host to several services a year. As the photo shows, the bronze plaque contains a bas-relief in the centre showing the cramped interior of a submarine in which sailors had to carry out their duties. Either side of the central section are sea creatures which have taken human form. The two female figures on the sides are Truth on the left and Justice on the right.

National Submarine Memorial, Victoria Embankment, London

The West London Observer of 11th January 1924 reported that Ercole had become one of fifty Fulham firms to have been added to the King’s Roll of Honour, having signed up to the National Scheme for Disabled Ex-Servicemen. From that time onwards, Ercole used the image on all of his letterheads.

‘Have You the Right to Use this Seal?’
© IWM (Art.IWM PST 138190

In April 1924, Ercole Parlanti wrote an article in ‘The Veteran’ magazine, a Newfoundland publication. This was in advance of the unveiling, some 3 months later, of the Newfoundland War Memorial. The article described in brief the Lost Wax method of casting, and commenced ‘The Bronze castings of Artistic works ( Statues, Statuettes and Architectural or decorative works ) require a special technical knowledge not so necessary in the ordinary commercial and engineering castings. For Art castings two different processes may be used.  One is the ordinary Sand process which is used by all Foundries and which is quite suitable for small and heavy pieces of a simple moulding nature, where for instance, undercuts are not so pronounced as to require the sectioning of the model. The moulding, however, of Statuary, even by the sand process, requires a skill on the part of the Founder that only several years of practical experience can attain. For castings however of extremely delicate works and where the intricacy of the modelling and undercuts requires a more skillful and pliable handling, the method called by the ”Cire Perdue” or ”Lost Wax Process” is applied’. Ercole went on to say ‘Our Works have reproduced in bronze by this process an infinite number of figures by British Sculptors: and during the 30 years or more that our Firm has been established in England a large amount of Statues to the memory of Queen Victoria, King Edward, and Statesmen, and different War Memorials have been executed here in Wax Process as well as Sand.’

1st July 1924 saw the unveiling of the National War Memorial in St. John’s, Newfoundland. The five figures, by the sculptors Ferdinand Victor Blundstone and Gilbert Bayes, had been cast in bronze by Ercole. The unveiling was, like so may other unveilings of war memorials worldwide, attended by huge crowds.

Courtesy of The Rooms Provincial Archives Division (E 8-58), St. John’s, NL.

Another one of many large castings was produced in 1925, Sir Harcourt Butler by by George Havard Thomas. The photo below shows the statue sitting in Parlanti’s foundry.

Sir Harcourt Butler by George Havard Thomas

One of the workers employed at the foundry at the time of the casting of Sir Harcourt Butler was Albert Foley. Albert’s daughter in law, Marie Foley, has kindly supplied some photographs that Albert had kept from his time at Parlanti’s, and also a couple of letters. They show firstly the laying off of Albert due to ‘slackness in the department‘ in 1923 having worked as a sand moulder from 1921, before a further letter dated 1925 which states that Albert was at that time employed again at Parlanti’s.

The above six images kindly supplied by Marie Foley

Alfred Gilbert’s Eros statue in London’s Piccadilly Circus had to be removed in 1925, and shortly afterwards broken fragments of the original plaster sketch for Eros were found in Gilbert’s old house. Ercole was commissioned to make a bronze from the sketch, and so successful was this bronze that a further cast was made.  These two bronzes are now with The Tate and The Royal Academy.

A publication in 1926 (The Tablet) carried an interesting advert for Parlanti’s. As well as describing the business as ‘The Ecclesiastical , Monumental and Decorative Metal Founders in Silver and Bronze’ and then listing the addresses, it also states ‘And at Rome‘. This raises the possibility that Alessandro, who had long since returned to Rome, may have still been casting.

The Tablet of Saturday February 13th 1926,

Despite becoming a Limited Company in March 1926, Ercole’s limited company started to suffer financial problems and, after Crittall Manufacturing bought Beaumont Works for four thousand two hundred and seven pounds fourteen shillings in 1927, E.J.Parlanti & Company Limited was dissolved.

By 1929, Ercole was operating out of premises in Winders Road, Battersea (possibly Nelly Yard where Fiorini had been previously), and it was from here in 1930 that he cast the 2 lead versions of Gaudier-Brzeska’s ‘Wrestler’. As already mentioned in the section on Alessandro, during Gaudier-Brzeska’s lifetime, only 4 bronzes are known to have been produced, and 2 of these at least were certainly cast at Parlanti’s. If Ercole had been given the lead castings to do in 1930, it can also be reasonably assumed that he also cast posthumous bronzes for Gaudier-Brzeska’s estate.

Now nearing retirement Ercole continued to cast on a smaller scale. All of Gordon Crosby’s original prototypes for the Jaguar mascot were cast by Ercole (with those that were not needed returned for melting down), and Ercole had also cast all of Gordon Crosby’s earlier bronzes. Nearing 68 years old, and living in Chiswick with his workshop in Acton Lane nearby, Ercole was still active. He contacted the Watts Gallery to ask if, following his visit the previous year, they wanted him to produce further reductions in bronze of ‘Physical Energy’.

Bronze prototype Jaguar Mascot by F Gordon Crosby

In 1947 Ercole eventually became a naturalised British citizen, following his initial application in 1940. His two sons had both fought in WW2, Mario, his youngest son, receiving an injury whilst working for the bomb disposal unit that meant he spent the rest of his life having to walk with a stick.

In 1953, when 82 years old, Ercole decided to pass on his knowledge and wrote a book ‘Casting A Torso in Bronze’. Barbara Hepworth only started to work in bronze in 1956 (using The Art Bronze Foundry, Fulham) and it has been suggested that a large part of Hepworth’s decision to start working in bronze was as a result of acquiring and reading Ercole’s book.

Ercole was also a talented sculptor. Pictured below are photos of an eagle, and a pair of brass ashtrays which Ercole both sculpted and cast. He died in 1955 in Acton Hospital, and a small obituary appeared in the Foundry Trade Journal of November 3rd that year. It simply said ‘The death is announced of Mr. E.J.Parlanti-a well known art founder-at the age of 84. He was responsible for many of the notable pieces of statuary in this country, such as, for instance, the 17 ton gilt-bronze eagle-the R.A.F. Memorial on Westminster Embankment. Not only was he an art founder, but also a sculptor of eminence and, in addition, was the author of Art Bronze Castings (sic)’. Only Conrad, of Ercole’s three children, continued in bronze casting.

Unique single cast by Ercole-Private Collection
Pair of brass ashtrays-Private Collection