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Franta Belsky’s Sculpture in Bethnal Green

April 29, 2021
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 Jewish 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.

The Lesson by Franta Belsky (1921-2000)

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5 Responses leave one →
  1. April 29, 2021

    I also have my favourite sculpture, which I visit sometimes in our Botanical Garden here in Kassel, Germany. 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 of “The Lesson”, especially the Boys’ objective opinion!

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

    Love & Peace

  2. Maggie Jonas permalink
    April 29, 2021

    Do you know his connection with Bethnal Green?

  3. Pauline Taylor permalink
    April 29, 2021

    Thank you GA. I was taught by Franta Belsky and remember him so well. he spoke with a very pronounced accent and on one occasion, having liked something that I had done, he made everyone gather round while he pointed out to them why he liked it but then he turned to me and said “Do NOT sink zat you are a genius” He also told us we could never hope to be good at sculpture until we had, like him, attended postmortems and seen how the human body is constructed. At that point I think we all gave up any idea of becoming sculptors !! He was a friend of Peter Ustinov and was commissioned to make door knobs for Ustinov’s home, he did not refuse as he was getting paid !! As far as I can recall his clothes were always navy blue or black, he always used the girl’s loos as they were closer to his studio and made a great fuss about how stupid it was for anyone to complain about it. A great character and a very good teacher, I never took up sculpture but I remember what he taught me very well. RIP Franta.

  4. Kelly Holman permalink
    April 29, 2021

    I love the tenderness captured in this moment between the woman and child. It seems to have a really universal quality and be particularly poignant in view of Franta Belsky’s personal story. Your piece also led me to his wonderful work ‘Joyride’ in Stevenage New Town which, it turns out, my husband remembered from childhood. Thank you.

    It was so interesting to hear the contemporary reactions to the sculpture.

  5. Richard permalink
    May 1, 2021

    Nice to hear some cockney accents ‘I think it’s disgusting’

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