Putney Sculpture Trail

Walk the Putney Sculpture Trail

Walk the Putney Sculpture Trail

Stefan Frost heads on a trail by artist Alan Thornhill

With many of us cooped up at home during Lockdown 2.0, getting outside and exercising when possible is more important than ever. Heading out for a daily walk is crucial and, handily, in London there are many scenic routes for us to follow. A particular walk worth considering, and one which is perhaps lesser known, is the Putney Sculpture Trail along the riverside.


The trail spans across 1.5 miles of the Thames riverside and is bookended by two beautiful parks, starting in Leaders Gardens and finishing just beyond Wandsworth park at Prospect Quay. This walk is made special by the nine permanent sculptures which are peppered along the route, all of which have been produced by British artist Alan Thornhill.


In 2005, Thornhill offered his sculptures to the Putney Partnership which gave the Partnership the idea of placing these artworks on public display in the form of a sculpture trail. The sculptures were publicly unveiled in September 2008 and since then have served almost as an outdoor gallery displaying impressive artistic talent. With galleries closed, Putney’s Sculpture Trail serves as an antidote to these issues, offering free art for anyone to observe in the outdoors.


Each of the sculptures is life-sized and stylistically varied. Thornhill sculptured all nine pieces out of clay, giving them an anatomically distorted finish, which creates a greater sense of ambiguity. The trail begins with ‘Exodus’ which is in the centre of Leaders Gardens. It is fitting that the trail commences with exodus as the title hints to the commencing of the trail. The second and smallest sculpture in the collection is called ‘Horizontal Ambiguity’ and is positioned on the riverside opposite the Dukes Head pub. This piece is, as its name suggests, the most ambiguous in the collection as the reclining figure has no clear face.


The third sculpture on the trail is called ‘Load’ and is positioned further along the riverside near Thai Square, sharing a similar beautiful view of the Thames to that of ‘Horizontal Ambiguity’. Thornhill had in fact offered ‘Load’ to the Putney Partnership back in 1989 after which point it stood, as it still does, near to Putney Bridge. It was only in 2008 that ‘Load’ became part of the larger public collection which constitutes the Putney Sculpture Trail.


The location of the next sculpture: ‘The Turning Point’ is the least picturesque as it stands at the junction between Putney Bridge Road and Putney High Street. Of all nine sculptures, this is the only one without a substantial view of the river but the two figures pictured embracing one another are beautiful to behold nonetheless.


The next two sculptures are called ‘Punch and Judy’ and ‘Motherfigure’ and are both located along Putney Wharf riverside, attaining a brilliant view of Putney Bridge which becomes even more impressive when lights illuminate the bridge at night. Another pair of sculptures fall within Wandsworth Park. ‘Nexus’, a complex piece with multiple figures in motion, is positioned on the southernmost path in the park while ‘Pygmalion’, showcasing one figure supporting another, is located on the riverside near the entrance to Prospect Quay. The trail ends with ‘Fall’ which appears in the Riverside Quarter in Prospect Quay and displays two figures in affectionate embrace.


The Putney Sculpture Trail is a short but artistically enriching experience which is open for us all. It is supported by Wandsworth Council and the Western Riverside Environment Fund. Unfortunately, Thornhill recently passed away but his work, which he produced in his Putney studio, will live on as an immutable part of Putney’s landscape.