BY TOBY PORTER
A hunched figure stands in a corner of the grounds of a school, behind a wooden wall and somewhat the worse for wear.
He has just one arm. Parents will regularly ask about his welfare. But no one can be absolutely sure whether he needs help – or if trying to help him is just going to cause further problems.
This 6ft tall hunk of humanity, though, in a corner of the Charter School in North Dulwich is not some suspect homeless man in need of a bowl of soup and some TLC.
It’s a sculpture by one of Australia’s most reputable modernist artists, Oliffe Richmond, who has eight prints in the Tate Modern.
The bronze creation, called Striding Man, was installed in the school in Red Post Hill in 1962 by London County Council (LCC) as part of its bid to bring art to the masses.
Richmond was heavily influenced by Alberto Giacometti – whose piece Walking Man sold in 2010 for £70 million.
He worked for Henry Moore, taking over from him as a teacher at the Chelsea School of Art. The piece was commissioned by the LCC for £1,200 – and the artist was paid £100.
Richmond’s Striding Man II is in the Kröller-Müller Museum in Holland, who date that work to 1960-61.
But another Striding Man, auctioned in 2012, and dated 1970, seven years before Richmond died, is valued by artvalue.com at £3,000.
Charter School’s piece was given a Grade II listing in 1998 by Historic England. Historic England’s 1998 listing of the sculpture says this is one of the outstanding pieces commissioned by the London County Council, the leading patron of public art in the period 1945-65.
They say it’s a tall, stooping figure that displays different qualities from different angles, with its claw-like feet, knotted and elongated legs, hunched back and heavy burden.
The tension of movement caught in stasis recalls Rodin’s headless L’Homme qui Marche, while the battered, vulnerable form and striated surface is reminiscent of the work of Giacometti.
The school, called William Penn Secondary School at the time, closed in 1999. Charter School was opened there in 2000 but it is not known if this piece is owned by the GLA, Southwark council or the new school.
Former pupil Damien Farrell suggested one of the school’s former teachers, ex-Who Wants to be a Millionaire and Tiswas host Chris Tarrant, could fund its renovation.
Mr Farrell said: “It’s frailness, if true, is probably due to it’s being moved – there are grants available for listed structures. “Why couldn’t it be encased in a perplex protective but viewable case?
“Because it was unappreciated, unloved, and a costly inconvenience. It’s frail, not because a bronze deteriorates by the elements or the human hand, but because it was dug up without due care.
“This artist has eight lithographs/prints in the Tate, highlighting his importance.
“Yet possibly his greatest work has been abandoned, while the mark II is still alive in Holland, exposed to the elements, exposing its beauty.”
Charter’s head of external affairs Shalene Varcoe said: “It was a nice sculpture to have outside the school and we would prefer not to have it in a wooden box.
“It should be on display somewhere. But we cannot start to make those decisions until its ownership is clarified.
“There has been wear and tear to the statue so we have boarded it up to prevent further damage – and in case it is unsafe for the students. “And if the school does own it, funding would be a key issue.”