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Art UK staff are working hard to put online the UK's national collection of sculpture – art that usually lives in museums, galleries, public buildings, collections' stores or on our streets. There are nearly 20,000 sculpture records to browse at the moment, with many thousands more in the pipeline.

To celebrate International Sculpture Day, I asked the team about the favourites they've found during the project so far. Several themes emerged: powerful female forms, characterful portraits, animals, and sculptures that make you laugh, as well as lesser-known sculptors. I hope you enjoy their picks and maybe come across your own new favourite sculpture in the process.

Inspirational people, and sculpting the human form

'Rise up, women' (Emmeline Pankhurst, 1858–1928)

'Rise up, women' (Emmeline Pankhurst, 1858–1928) 2018

Hazel Reeves and Bronze Age Sculpture Casting Foundry

St Peter's Square, Manchester, Greater Manchester

Statues of people with powerful stories to tell came up unsurprisingly regularly as staff top choices – starting off strongly with Hazel Reeves' long overdue sculpture of the organiser of the Suffragette movement, Emmeline Pankhurst.

Anthony, Public Sculpture Manager, notes the unusual design – the exceptional Emmeline stands on a chair, as if addressing a mass demonstration, and points towards the former Free Trade Hall, where the first Suffragette meetings took place. Prior to its erection in 2018, 16 of the 17 statues in the city centre were of men (the only exception was one of Queen Victoria).

Anthony also has a personal connection to the statue: 'when I was a child, I regularly accompanied my great-grandmother to the old Eye Hospital when it was just opposite there – I would always read the blue plaque on the wall and wonder who Emmeline Pankhurst was.'

Widows and Bairns

Widows and Bairns 2007

Jill Watson (b.1957)

Coldingham Rd, St Abbs, Scottish Borders

Sarah, Project Officer, appreciates the evocative 'Widows and Bairns' series which commemorates Britain's worst fishing disaster, as seen through the eyes of the families left behind. 'The minute and emotive detailing of these small-scale works, along with their placement in each coastal area where the fishermen hailed from, speak powerfully to the feelings of their families on the shore, watching helplessly as the disaster unfolded.'

Figure of a Shipbuilder

Figure of a Shipbuilder c.1949

Benno Schotz (1891–1984)

Scottish Maritime Museum

Another maritime link, several Art UK staff had Benno Schotz's mid-century Figure of a Shipbuilder stick firmly in their memory. Strikingly contemporary looking, the work drew Shane, Learning and Engagement Officer, because his family have a fishing background. 'I find this work particularly striking with its masked anonymity, representing every and any shipbuilder.'

Boy Reading

Boy Reading

Ajidasile Orisadipe

Stromness Museum

Ajidasile Orisadipe's thorn carvings are a favourite of Hazel, Regional Sculpture Manager. 'In a 1949 journal... it is noted that Orisadipe "is an outstanding thorn carver". Thorn carvings are particular to Nigeria. This piece is so charming and I wonder about its journey to Stromness. There are three types of tree used for thorn carving.'

Giovanna Francesca Antonia Guiseppe Zanerini (1753–1801), Called 'La Baccelli'

Giovanna Francesca Antonia Guiseppe Zanerini (1753–1801), Called 'La Baccelli' 1778

Giovanni Battista Locatelli (1734–1805) (attributed to)

National Trust, Knole

One of my own favourites is the daring sculpture of 'La Baccelli', the Venetian ballet dancer and mistress of 3rd Duke of Dorset. In the commission, she looks incredibly content and pleased with herself, lying naked on her plaster bed. The Duke later settled down to marry a respectable heiress, and according to an inventory, the statue was then rechristened A Naked Venus and moved to a less prominent position.

Eástre

Eástre (Hymn to the Sun) 1924

John Duncan Fergusson (1874–1961)

Leicester Museums and Galleries

Staff picks proved we have a collective penchant for enigmatic female forms – such as Fergusson's beautiful bust of his soon-to-be wife, Margaret Morris, chosen by Katey, Art UK's Deputy Director.

Black Orchid

Black Orchid 1956

Dora Gordine (1895–1991) and Morris Singer Art Foundry Ltd (founded 1927)

Dorich House Museum, Kingston University

From the content team, both Lydia and Louise love Dora Gordine's beautiful works – such as Flawless Crystal and Black Orchid. The latter 'is so unusual and the gold against the black is so striking', says Lydia, Content Editor.

Torso

Torso 1930

Barbara Hepworth (1903–1975)

The Whitworth, The University of Manchester

Copyright Officer Lulu likes simple, tactile and feminine forms, like Baccarat, Sitting Up Girl III, Legs and Serenity. 'I love Hepworth's tactile sculptures. I want them scattered around my house where I can just pick up and touch them'.

Prometheus

Prometheus 1912

Constantin Brâncuși (1876–1957)

Kettle's Yard, University of Cambridge

Other favourite sculptures of the human figure include a perfect ballerina, a cheeky street urchin, and the ethereal, calm form of Prometheus: a head of a knight from c.1300 also evokes a similar sense of peace.

Knight's Head

Knight's Head c.1300

unknown artist

Epping Forest District Museum

Good sense of humour

When choosing a favourite sculpture, it is often the funny ones that stick in our minds. These 'substantial brothers' were remembered by a few staff, including Flora, Operations Officer, who explains 'I have never heard 'substantial' as a synonym for 'fat''.

Benito Mussolini (1883–1945)

Benito Mussolini (1883–1945) 1936

unknown artist

The Dock Museum

Image Officer Aled bought to our attention this wooden carving of the head of Mussolini. 'It is stupid and cartoonish, his eyes are bulging, he looks like he is about to explode with anger – it is funny, but also a prescient depiction of the throbbing machismo throwing its weight around Europe at that time. It was made in 1936 to be the figurehead of the Barrow Hospital float at the parade that year, and there is something quite poignant about the residents of this town in Cumbria expressing their quiet distaste for what was 'going on' – and would continue to go on – through caricature.'

Animals

Unholy Trinity

Unholy Trinity 2007

Mike McDonnell (b.1939)

Shetland Museum and Archives (Shetland Amenity Trust)

Animals featured heavily in Art UK's top picks, especially sheep, for some reason: such as Mike McDonnell's commentary on the Shetland Clearances, Robert Koenig's cute column, and Mabel Pakenham-Walsh's Sheeps in Hell – 'the title alone is enough to warrant a closer look', says Andrew, Head of Content.

Litter

Litter 2015

Leo Fitzmaurice (b.1963)

Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Rabbits also kept popping up, as in Leo Fitzmaurice's Litter. Katey, Deputy Director, explains 'At first glance, these look like rabbits, but upon closer inspection, they are rubbish bags with their handles tied. This artwork is at Yorkshire Sculpture Park... I saw Litter in person last year just before I went into their restaurant and had the best afternoon tea I've ever had, so it also brings back a happy memory!'

(Could Working Model for 'Parting' be another rabbit, asks Development Manager Liz?)

Brown Dog Memorial and Fountain

Brown Dog Memorial and Fountain 1906

Joseph James Whitehead (1868–1951)

Latchmere Park Recreation Ground, Battersea, South West London

Another powerful public sculpture chosen by Anthony is the Brown Dog Memorial and Fountain (and its replacement) which commemorates a dog that had been mistreated in medical experiments. 'The story of the original memorial is quite epic in itself – featuring one of the most famous libel cases the country has ever seen – but so is the story of the memorial's replacement... The 'biography' of the original memorial continues through the erection of the new... the desire to do this is common in communities when monuments and sculpture are removed but it is incredibly rare that the desire is materialised.'

Brown Dog

Brown Dog 1985

Nicola Hicks (b.1960) and Gilbert & Turnbull Ltd., London

Old English Garden, Battersea Park, Battersea, South West London

Jambo Protecting the Injured Boy at Jersey Zoo in 1986

Jambo Protecting the Injured Boy at Jersey Zoo in 1986 1986

Elinor K. Brett (1911–2007)

Jersey Heritage

Other emotive sculptures of animals also loom large in Art UK's collective consciousness, with picks such as the small clay commemoration of a touching incident at Jersey Zoo. A small boy fell into the gorilla enclosure, but famously Jambo acted protectively toward the child.

Unicorn and Associated Decorative Carving

Unicorn and Associated Decorative Carving 1929–1930

Margaret Cross Primrose Findlay (1902–1968) and Dawson & Young

Glasgow Cross, Glasgow

Other honourable animal sculpture mentions include charming cats, dogs, pine martin, guinea fowl and even a unicorn. Scotland's national animal appears on this important carving by the Scottish artist, Margaret Cross Primrose Findlay, who collaborated on the project with Edith Burnet Hughes, Britain's first female practising architect.

Lesser-known artists

Discovering inspirational artists is a major perk of working at Art UK – unexpectedly coming across talented people, whose personalities shine through their work.

Stylised Figure Seated Cross-Legged with Large Ears

Stylised Figure Seated Cross-Legged with Large Ears 1919–1935

Tom Charman (1863–1939)

The New Forest Heritage Centre

Aled, Image Officer, is interested in the artist Tom Charman (1863–1939), who made sculpture from wood he picked up around the New Forest, where he lived in an 'unpretentious hut'.

'As well as being a talented woodcarver he was notably known as a 'fairy seer' and was involved with the Fairy Investigation Society, founded in 1927. He also even once took Arthur Conan Doyle out to look for the Little People... I like to think that this long-eared inquisitive looking sprite is one of the many woodland residents Tom encountered'.

Goliath

Goliath 1935

Adam Christie (1868–1950)

Shetland Museum and Archives (Shetland Amenity Trust)

Art UK's other Image Officer, Iain, also cites a link to folk art in his choice. Adam Christie's Goliath 'has such a strong energy. I like it because it links back to historic folk sculpture and a more primal way of making.'

Woman with Child on Back

Woman with Child on Back 1986

Sokari Douglas Camp (b.1958)

Leicester Museums and Galleries

Julia, Social Media Manager, says: 'Sokari Douglas Camp is one of my favourite artists. She's a very kind, soft-spoken, power tool-wielding, gender norm-smashing woman. Can anyone else create beautiful depictions of fabric out of steel like her?'

Julia also likes Fulani Girl by the Nigerian sculptor Enwonwu.

Fulani Girl

Fulani Girl

Ben Enwonwu (1917–1994)

Government Art Collection

Personal touches

Art that has a personal connection also makes for a frequent favourite.

Learning and Engagement Manager Selina counts Figure of a Man as one of her favourites – as did the enigmatic poet and writer Vita Sackville-West, who grew up in the stately home. 'Nobody seems to know what he is pointing at!'

Capri MkI*

Capri MkI* 2010–2011

A. J. Baldwin

Valence House Museum

Other personal connections are powerfully nostalgic – such as Project Officer Maggie's pick Capri MkI*. 'When I was a teenager the only person I knew with a car had a red Ford Capri (it was his pride and joy – he was always cleaning it). Outdoor sculptures can sometimes look incongruous in their surroundings... I like the fact that this makes sense in its surroundings... It was made as a tribute 'to honour the borough's connection with the Ford Motor Company factory in Dagenham'... But it has also connotations of burnt-out cars, kids hanging out, a sense of faded glory.'

Lemmings

Lemmings 2013

Powderhall Bronze (founded 1989) and Alyson Conway

Airlie Place / Perth Road, City of Dundee, Dundee

Andrew's favourite, Lemmings, celebrates Dundee's videogame-creating heritage and evokes in his mind 'the high pitched 'let's go' when each level began'.

Ultimate Form (Family of Man)

Ultimate Form (Family of Man) 1970

Barbara Hepworth (1903–1975)

Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Louise, Digital Marketing Manager, tells of her personal connection to a Barbara Hepworth outdoor piece. 'I spent a day at Yorkshire Sculpture Park last year and this work really sticks in my memory. That place is magical and I found it so peaceful to sit on the hill alongside these figures. It was probably the first time I've really appreciated the impact outdoor sculpture can have on me!'

Speed Breakers

Speed Breakers 2012

Hemali Bhuta (b.1978)

Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Yorkshire Sculpture Park also houses a favourite work of Oli, Art UK's Online Shop Manager. 'Speed Breakers is tree roots in bronze. There's a sense of discovering a secret artwork when you find these, they are mostly indistinguishable from normal tree roots to the eye, but when you trip over them you realise they're not wood.'

Another Time X

Another Time X 2008

Antony Gormley (b.1950)

Ninewells Hospital, City of Dundee, Dundee

Surprising sculpture tends to stay with us. Antony Gormley's' Another Time X 'is identical to the one on Broad Street in Oxford and I remember freaking out one night when I first noticed it creeping over the top of a tall building', says Chiara, Database and Collections Liaison Officer.

Gormley is one of the few famous artists whose work has been favourited by a staff member, which proves our work is shining a light on sculpture that is more overlooked. Another famous sculptor – Christo – has work in the national collection, but this one, Maggie's favourite, is different from his usual large-scale pieces.

Wrapped Roses

Wrapped Roses (edition of 75) 1968

Christo (1935–2020)

Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre

'I always like it when an artist produces something that we don't expect. When we think of Christo wrapping things we think of huge, ambitious, spectacular, projects. This is very different. Wrapping a building (or elements within a landscape) accentuates its form and its scale. The buildings and landscapes become like abstract sculptures. The effect of wrapping a small thing – like this bunch of plastic flowers – does a very different thing. There is something disturbing about the sculpture. There is suddenly a narrative – the narrative of flowers left as a memorial by the side of a road or of forensic evidence.'

Jade King, Art UK's Head of Editorial