Welsh National War Memorial. John Ninian Comper (1864-1960). Unveiled 1928. Portland stone, with bronze figures and dolphins by A. B. Pegram. In the centre of Alexandra Gardens, Cathays Park, Cardiff. Comper has achieved a dignified and elegant effect with a complex circle-within-circle design. As the listing text explains, the outer part consists of "a circular colonnade of unfluted Corinthian columns with 3 projecting rectangular porticos"; at each of the gated porticos, steps lead down to a circular space where a circular fountain basin contains a three-sided podium. The rectangular lower part leads to a circular upper part "with projecting columns echoing the shape of the outer colonnade." On the three projections are three bronze statues representing a soldier, a sailor and an airman, each holding high a wreath. Dolphins leap from the base of the main platform above, whilst in the middle stands another bronze figure representing Victory (according to the listing text in the PMSA site) or the Archangel St Michael ("Welsh National War Memorial"). Either way, the meaning, suggested by the only Latin inscription, "IN HOC SIGNO VINCES," is triumph over the adversary. The other inscriptions are in English and Welsh, one in English on the inner frieze reading: REMEMBER HERE IN PEACE THOSE WHO IN TUMULT OF WAR BY SEA, ON LAND, IN AIR, FOR US AND FOR OUR VICTORY ENDURETH UNTO DEATH.
This is a very striking memorial, especially as positioned in the centre of the gardens. Inspired by Comper's visits to N. Africa, especially Tunisia and the public works erected there by Emperor Hadrian, it is very different in its austere classical style from his earlier rich neo-Gothic church furnishings and interiors (e.g. the Lady Chapel at All Saint's, Margaret Street), but it may be linked to his more recent liking for the columned baldacchino or altar canopy. In theme and structure, it is also a perfect expression of his belief in "unity by inclusion" (Jenkins 284). This was Comper's only important secular commission (Symondson).
Closer Views of Sculpture
Photograph and text by Jacqueline Banerjee. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]
Jenkins, Simon. England's Thousand Best Churches. London: Penguin, 2000.
PMSA: Full Record. vads (resource for visual arts). Web. 1 March 2011.
Symondson, Anthony. "Comper, Sir (John) Ninian (1864-1960)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. Web. 1 March 2011.
"Welsh National War Memorial". Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales. Web. 1 March 2011.
Last modified 6 February 2012