The Eros statue is the upper part of the Shaftsbury memorial. The whole monument consists of a lower bronze base as well as the upper aluminium figure of Eros.
The sculpture is made of an aluminium alloy (93.2% Al, 3.6% Cu, and 3.0% Zn), iron (armature) and cement (fill). The cement fill was removed and part of the iron armature replaced by stainless steel during conservation work.
The sculpture of Eros in Sefton Park
Liverpool City Council owns this sculpture of Eros, although it is currently kept at the Conservation Centre. It was removed from Sefton Park in 1991 due to public health and safety concerns, as the sculpture was deemed very unstable, particularly in high winds. Moving the sculpture indoors stopped it from eroding any further. As Liverpool City Council owns the sculpture of Eros, the object has no National Museums Liverpool accession number.
The Sefton Park Eros Fountain is a second cast of the world famous Eros Fountain in Piccadilly Circus, London. The London Fountain is a memorial to Anthony Ashley-Cooper, Earl of Shaftsbury. The sculptor Alfred Gilbert worked on the memorial in the late 19th century and the finished work was unveiled in Piccadilly Circus in 1893. At first the fountain did not receive a warm reception. Critics felt that a fountain sculpture of Eros was not a suitable memorial to the late Earl of Shaftsbury. Despite this criticism the fountain soon became one of London’s most famous landmarks.
In the late 1920s George Audley of Liverpool liked the fountain so much that he commissioned another copy from the sculptor Alfred Gilbert. The setting of the sculpture was Sefton Park, Liverpool, where Audley had earlier commissioned a second cast of a sculpture of Peter Pan by George Frampton. The Peter Pan sculpture was Audley’s gift to the children of Liverpool. The second Eros fountain was made in 1929 and unveiled in Sefton Park in 1932. Sadly Audley died a few months before the unveiling.
The fountain is an aluminium figure of Eros standing on a bronze base. The six foot tall figure of Eros has a relatively small body but large wings, and is standing outstretched on one leg. In one hand Eros is holding a bow. The other hand is drawn back as if he is holding an imaginary arrow. Eros is wearing a winged helmet that comes down over his forehead.
The sculpture has always been known as Eros. Eros is the Greek God of carnal love. However the sculptor, Gilbert, made it clear that the figure he had made represented Eros’ twin brother Anteros, the god of selfless philanthropic love. The model for the figure of Eros was one of Gilbert's studio assistants called Angelo Colorossi.
Gilbert chose to create the sculpture of Eros from aluminium because of the pale colour of the metal and also because aluminium is very light and strong. In fact if Eros had been cast in bronze, he would not be able to support all his weight on one thin ankle whilst leaning so far forward. He would collapse. This pose is only possible through the use of aluminium. When Gilbert created the sculpture for the Eros fountain in London, it was the first use of aluminium in a major public work in Britain. The use of aluminium was made possible by the discovery of the Delville Costner casting process, in the late 1800s. The figure of Eros is constructed of 15 separate castings making up the head, torso, legs, arms, wings, drapery, head, wings, conch shell and bow.
Damage to one of the wings of the Eros sculpture
In 1991 conservators found that the aluminium figure of Eros in Sefton Park was in an appalling state. One wing had been partially torn off and the raised leg was split open and in danger of falling off. The sculpture’s thin skin of aluminium had split in various places. This allowed rain inside, corroding the iron armature and stimulating salt growth in the plaster core.
Damage to one of the wings of the Eros sculpture
The original bronze bow, lost on the London one and replaced with an aluminium copy, was refitted. The sculpture now stands in excellent condition in the Conservation Centre, Liverpool. An aluminium alloy replica of Eros was cast during the conservation work on the sculpture. This replica was placed back onto the original bronze base in Sefton Park.
Damage to the Liverpool Eros is much worse than that of the London Eros. Between 1932 and 1991 the sculpture had received much less conservation treatment than the fountain in London. In addition, the Liverpool Eros is in a more isolated position and is therefore more susceptible to damage due to vandalism. During conservation the damaged wing was removed and the internal structure was examined with a fibre optic endoscope. This revealed that much of the armature was intact. Only the more exposed portions needed to be removed.
Salts on the wing of the Eros sculpture. The right hand side has been laser cleaned
The aluminium surface of the original sculpture was coated with a layer of dark pollution. In many places a thick crystalline crust had formed. Analysis revealed that the white encrustations were formed from crystals of calcium sulphate. These had been caused by the migration of salts from the plaster core as the water penetrated inside the sculpture. In the past it was thought that the Liverpool Eros was made from impure aluminium and had corroded badly as a consequence. In fact metallurgical analysis of the Sefton sculpture showed that it had an aluminium content of 93.2%, only slightly less than the London one. Given the problems of metal corrosion, salt migration and the porosity of the metal, the use of water-based solutions and chemicals for cleaning was ruled out. Laser cleaning was tested because it was dry, controllable and would not interact with the chemistry of the aluminium. Tests revealed that we could not only vaporise dirty layers from the aluminium but also detach layers of salt crystals using the ultrasonic effect of the beam.
The laser left the naturally oxidised patina on the surface intact. The Liverpool Eros was cleaned using a ND/YAG near infrared laser operating at 1064 nm. The London Eros, which was abrasively cleaned, had to be patinated artificially after cleaning to make it less shiny. It was only necessary to coat the Liverpool Eros with clear acrylic varnish after cleaning to leave it a soft pewter colour. The repairs to the wing, leg and other parts of the sculpture were carried out in a mixture of polyester resin and aluminium powder. The internal armature was renewed where necessary with stainless steel.
The Eros sculpture during conservation
Sources of information
Books and reference material
Title: Alfred Gilbert
Author: R. Dorment
Publisher: Yale University Press 1985
Title: Public Sculpture of Liverpool
Author: Terry Cavanagh
Publisher: Liverpool University Press, 1997
National Museums Liverpool website