Leonardslee Lakes and Gardens opens a major exhibition of work by Anton Smit
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Leonardslee Lakes and Gardens opens a major exhibition of work by Anton Smit
Anton Smit, Faith 7m, resin, h 7505 x w 2040 x d 1900, 2017. Courtesy of the artist and Leonardslee Lakes & Gardens. Photo: Justin Lewis.

LOWER BEEDING.- Leonardslee Lakes and Gardens launched a sculpture park with a major exhibition of work by the celebrated South African artist Anton Smit. The presentation, entitled The Walk of Life, comprises more than 80 figurative works, including Smit’s signature colossal heads, female forms and warriors. These have been arranged around the estate’s 240-acre, Grade 1-listed grounds and gardens, allowing visitors an opportunity to explore Smit’s extraordinary practice en plein air.

Rendered in various media, including steel, clay, stone, cement and bronze, the sculptures were created at Smit’s Cape Town and Gauteng studios and will be in situ at Leonardslee until 2024. The assembled works include Faith, a monumental 7-metre sculpture sited next to the estate’s Italianate mansion. Of Faith, Smit says: ‘It investigates the landscape of the soul, offering a fleeting glimpse of eternity. The dimness of our reflection in the mirror of the universe leaves us gasping for immortality as we sink into the abyss of the self.’

Smit’s sculptures evoke themes of suffering, reconciliation, glory and sublimation, and are notable for their illusion of movement or gesture. A poet as well as an artist, he offers further meaning to the works with verse of his own and others, including Thomas Hardy and William Carlos Williams, which are featured alongside the sculptures. ‘[My work] is driven by faith; the spiritual essence of every piece is an answer to that inner call.’

Leonardslee’s owner, Penny Streeter, OBE, says: ‘With its woodlands and lakes, the grounds at Leonardslee are the perfect setting for displaying sculpture, and we are delighted to have an artist of Anton’s stature and international repute for our inaugural show.’

The gardens at Leonardslee were created in the late 1800s by Sir Edmund Loder, one of the great Victorian collectors of flora and fauna, including a colony of wallabies which still survives today, Loder most famously introduced exotic plants from as far away as the Himalayas and the Americas.

Landscaped around the series of lakes — there are now seven on the estate — the gardens were dug out originally as ‘hammer ponds’ for smelting iron ore which produced cannonballs for Oliver Cromwell’s armies. Indeed, Smit says this was an inspiration for the exhibition, which took three years to plan.

‘There is poetic synchronicity between the smelting of iron ore and the forging of massive sculptures and the creation of these beautiful gardens centuries ago,’ he says. ‘The intense heat, the roar and exhale of flames, the clamour of metal on metal; from this, great beauty is forged.’

Streeter acquired the estate, described as the finest woodland gardens in England, in 2017, following seven years’ closure and neglect. She restored the estate extensively before it opened again to the public in 2019, and it is now under the management of her son, Adam Streeter.

She says: ‘The creation of the sculpture park is a further commitment by our family to this very special place, and we are looking forward to welcoming presentations by other artists in the coming years.’

The Walk for Life can be viewed seven days a week and is included in the entrance fee for Leonardslee Lakes and Gardens. The works are available for purchase.

The Surrey Sculpture Society will also launch their summer exhibition at Leonardslee Lakes and Gardens taking place on the 30 July and running until 5 September 2021. Visitors will be able to discover over 80 diverse sculptures strategically located within the Grade 1 listed garden created by both established and emerging artists in a wide range of materials including bronze, resin, glass, metal, wood, stone, ceramic and found objects.

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