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Franta Belsky’s Sculpture In Bethnal Green

May 27, 2015
by the gentle author

The Lesson by Franta Belsky (1959)

For years, I passed Franta Belsky’s bronze sculpture in Bethnal Green every Sunday on my way to and from the flower market in Columbia Rd without knowing the name of the artist. Born in 1921 in Brno, Czechoslovakia, Belsky fled to England after the German invasion and fought for the Czech Exile Army in France. Returning to Prague after the war, he discovered that most of his family had perished in the Nazi Holocaust, before fleeing again in 1948 when the Communists took over.

Creating both figurative and abstract work, Belsky believed that sculpture was for everyone. “You have to humanise the environment,” he said once, “A housing estate does not only need newspaper kiosks and bus-stop shelters but something that gives it spirit.”As you can see from this film of 1959, some local residents in Bethnal Green were equivocal about Belsky’s scupture at first – but more than half a century later it has become a much-loved landmark.

[youtube wz2GY-pGF7k nolink]

The Lesson by Franta Belsky (1921-2000)

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11 Responses leave one →
  1. May 27, 2015

    This is sheer wonderment and joy ~ thank you for sharing this with us!

  2. May 27, 2015

    I often passed by this sculpture when I was still living in London, and always loved it. Valerie

  3. May 27, 2015

    I also have my favourite sculpture, which I visit sometimes in our Botanical Garden. It is called “Boy and Dove” and dated on 1953. The Artist is Kurt Lehmann (1905-2000).

    Interesting the 1959 discussion about cost and benefit, especially the Boys’ objective opinion!

    I think both sculptures, Franta Belsky’s and Kurt Lehmann’s, stand for Peace in this World!

    Love & Peace

  4. Neville Turner permalink
    May 27, 2015

    A very endearing sculpture it seems to connect humanity and abstract in a captivating way,good photo composition let’s have more of Franta Belsky.

  5. Bronchitikat permalink
    May 27, 2015

    Is it just me or does the ‘mother’ figure look somewhat oddly shaped while the ‘toddler’ figure looks much more naturalistic?

  6. May 27, 2015

    Wonderful sculpture and terrific piece of film! One would probably hear the same range of comments today!
    Most marvelous is the way the teacher back then has encouraged his students to become ‘art critics’ — I hope the children grew up to continually access art around them.
    “The Lesson”–well-named after hearing that teacher and the school kids!

  7. May 27, 2015

    I think she’s magnificent. Interesting newsreel – not just for interviewees’ comments, but for the way the interviewer is really talking down to everyone. I wonder if they noticed at the time or if they all ‘knew their place’ …

  8. kristine dillon permalink
    May 27, 2015

    How lucky is the person who passes this sculpture because they live nearby. I would be delighted to have such a piece located in my neighborhood.

    I too was struck by the comments of the people depicted in the film clip. It is unfortunate when people believe that art is something only for those of means. Sometimes someone has a greater vision, acts on this vision, and we all benefit from it. Another lovely and most interesting story, many thanks!

  9. Pauline Taylor permalink
    May 27, 2015

    This has made my day and I am so grateful to you for bringing back so many happy memories for me. Franta Belsky taught me sculpture and he was a great character. He would tell us stories of his early life and how he had had to learn how to understand the human figure by being made to watch the dissection of corpses, it was all quite gruesome! On one occasion he became very excited by some work that I had done and made everyone else in the class gather round while he explained why he liked it, but he then soon brought me back down to earth by saying to me, “do not zink zat you are a genius”, he spoke with quite a strong accent. It was a lesson that I never forgot and I remember him with great affection, thank you so much GA.


  10. September 25, 2015

    I have walked over a great deal of the East End. Partially because most of the post-graduate work at university was about the Huguenots after they were expelled from France, and partially because one of my grandmothers lived there until she later emigrated. I have inspected the Huguenot churches and silk makers’ homes, and the Russian-Jewish soup kitchens, theatres, synagogues and art studios.

    But not Franta Belsky’s Sculpture In Bethnal Green. Shame on me… and shame on my Czech husband 🙁 Thanks for an important link,

  11. Louis permalink
    July 12, 2016

    Belsky’s companion piece to the Lesson is in Stevenage town centre

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