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Statues of horses are a common sight in London's squares and streets, but occasionally a more unusual kind of creature is celebrated in sculpture. Continue scrolling to read more about London's cuddling bears, friendly elephants and the ugliest 'dolphin' to ever adorn a public space.

13 artworks

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Elephant in the Room
© the copyright holders. Photo credit: Queen Mary, University of London

This baby elephant sleeps on a bench on the Queen Mary, University of London campus. Made of cast bronze, its many wrinkles make the statue look realistic – on the receiving end of many strokes from students, the golden bronze is starting to shine through.

Elephant in the Room was installed to raise awareness of mental health: the sleeping form is calming and innocent, but the title references the problems no one wants to talk about, hiding in plain sight.

Elephant in the Room 2017
Hannah Stewart (b.1976) and Chierol Lai (b.1995)
Bronze resin
H 17 x W 20 x D 16 cm
Queen Mary, University of London

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Monument for a Dead Parrot
© the artist. Photo credit: University of Greenwich

This poor cockatoo is the work of John Reardon. Around the corner from the National Maritime Museum, the bird on its plinth prompts many questions. Is it dead, or just sleeping? Why is it there? What does it mean? Is it a reference to the 'Dead Parrot' sketch from Monty Python's Flying Circus?

I wish I had the answer...

Monument for a Dead Parrot 2009
John Reardon (b.1968)
Cast, spray painted bronze
H 16 x W 49 x D 19 cm
University of Greenwich

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Chilean Scout*
© the copyright holder. Photo credit: The Scouts Heritage Service

You might not expect to see a puma in Chingford, but this conquered feline is being held aloft by a Peruvian boy to celebrate the tradition of Scouting, and the strength and defiance the Scouts represent. (Or perhaps how Scouting tames the wild beast inside?)

Why such a South American sculpture for a very British location? Chile was the first country outside of the UK and the Commonwealth to adopt Scouting, and the installation celebrated 20 years of Scouting in Chile.

Chilean Scout* c.1929
R. Tonti (active c.1929)
Bronze
H 93 x W 56 cm
The Scouts Heritage Service

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Lion
Photo credit: World Rugby Museum

This golden lion, and the lion that comes next in this list, were originally located at the Lion Brewery in Lambeth, which was demolished for the building of the Royal Festival Hall (as especially requested by George VI).

This one ended up in Twickenham to stand outside the World Rugby Museum to mark the centenary of the Rugby Football Union in 1972.

Lion
William Frederick Woodington (1806–1893)
Gilded coade stone
World Rugby Museum

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South Bank Lion
Photo credit: Vincenzo Albano / Art UK

This lion, like its brother in Twickenham, was originally on top of the Lion Brewery in South Bank in the nineteenth century. It ended up on a plinth by the river in the 1960s.

What's unusual about this lion is that during cleaning in the 1950s, a trap door was found cut into the lion's back. It also used to be painted bright red.

South Bank Lion 1837
William Frederick Woodington (1806–1893)
Coade stone & granite
H 366 x W 396 cm

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Dragon Fly
© the copyright holders. Photo credit: Juliet Ferguson / Art UK

This giant insect, with a wingspan of nearly three metres, terrorises Hounslow Heath car-park.

Thrussells are a father and son team of metalworkers, based on Bodmin Moor.

Dragon Fly 2009 or before
Thrussells
Galvanised mild steel
W 250 cm

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Catford Centre Cat
© the copyright holder. Photo credit: Gary Tyrell / Art UK

The 'Catford Cat' is beloved by residents of Lewisham borough, who fiercely defended its position recently when the council considered removing it. Its size, crazy eyes and arched back all make him/her look slightly threatening, like a fierce defender of the high street.

While it would be nice if the giant cat was the reason for the name 'Catford', actually it was the other way around – the name Catford was first recorded in 1254.

Catford Centre Cat 1974
Owen Luder (b.1928) and Embassy Signs
Fibreglass

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The Elephant and the Tortoise
© the artist. Photo credit: David Ovenden / Art UK 2020 and Thierry Bal 2016

The sculpture in Chingford commemorates British Xylonite’s Halex Factory which stood on the same spot until 1971. The factory was famous for making table tennis balls, some of which featured an elephant and tortoise walking arm in arm – hence the artist's design.

The base has a line from a poem by Alexander Pope: 'The tortoise here and elephant unite, Transform'd to combs, the speckled and the white' – which references a woman getting ready at her toilette, the shell and ivory used to make hair accessories.

The Elephant and the Tortoise 2015
Barnaby Barford (b.1977)
Stainless steel
H 200 x W 400 cm

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Dolphin Fountain (Boy with a Dolphin)
Photo credit: Sally Norris / Art UK

We should really forgive Alexander Munro (1825–1871) – it must have been hard in those days to know what many sea creatures looked like.

Dolphin Fountain (Boy with a Dolphin) 1861
Alexander Munro (1825–1871)
Carrara marble, red granite, Sicilian marble, dove marble & grey granite
H 400 x W 360 x D 360 cm

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Two Bears Drinking Fountain
© the copyright holder. Photo credit: Sally Norris / Art UK

Two little bears have a hug on top of this fountain in Kensington Gardens, which was presented by the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain Association in 1939. It is still used by people who visit the park.

The poor figures were stolen in 1967, then their replacements were attempted to be stolen in 2019.

Two Bears Drinking Fountain
Kenneth Keeble-Smith (active 1939)
Bronze & Portland stone
H 48 cm

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Black Bull
Photo credit: Juliet Ferguson / Art UK

This bull was formerly the sign of the 'Black Bull Inn' in Holborn, demolished 1904, and mentioned by Dickens in 'Martin Chuzzlewit'.

Black Bull 19th C
unknown artist
Stone

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Tortoises with Triangle and Time
© the artist. Photo credit: Jennette Russell / Art UK

A plaque on this unusual sundial, commissioned for the millennium, explains the science behind how they work: the gnomon casts a shadow on the dial. It is installed parallel with the Earth’s axis and points north. As the Earth’s axis tilts and the Earth’s spins wonkily around the sun, the time shown on the sundial will often differ by several minutes either way, with a maximum difference of sixteen minutes during February and October.

Tortoises with Triangle and Time 2000
Wendy Taylor (b.1945) and Bronze Age Sculpture Casting Foundry and Meighs Castings Ltd and Nautilus Fine Art Foundry (active 1997–2003)
Bronze
H 549 x W 660 x D 619 cm

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Crocodylius Philodendrus
© the artist, courtesy of Gagosian. Photo credit: Lucy Dawkins, courtesy of Sculpture in the City

Crocodylius Philodendrus, located in the City of London, is quite difficult to look at – figures of animals are merged into an almost-amorphous blob, balancing on the back of a tortoise.

The artist says: 'I am interested in the balance, the engineering and tenuousness of the objects, as well as the dynamic tension and energy... the way that crystals or cells grow. I’m interested in the bigger picture.'

Crocodylius Philodendrus 2016–2017
Nancy Rubins (b.1952)
Cast iron, brass, bronze, aluminum, stainless steel armature & stainless steel wire cable
H 433.1 x W 548.6 x D 489 cm
City of London Corporation