Inside Collcutt's palazzo
General Committee Room in the Collcutt building at 71 Fenchurch Street, photographed in 2010.
The great classical saloon on the first floor is the architectural climax of Collcutt's building. The scale and quality of the decoration celebrate its status.
Double mahogany doors lead into the room from the first floor landing. The room is double height, occupying the first and second floor space; it is four window bays long and two bays wide with a central fireplace at each end. Coupled Ionic columns mark each of the window bays and are mirrored on the wall opposite. These rise to a barrel-vaulted ceiling. The columns have red Numidian marbles shafts on black marble bases, with bronze ovolo moulding on Connemara green marble plinths. The capitals are gilded and support a black pulvinated frieze and gilded modillioned cornice.
On the north wall the frieze is inscribed with the names of three worthies, Watt, Newton and Cook; the inventor, scientist and explorer. The rest of the frieze quotes The Book of Psalms, 107 v. 23 &24: 'They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; These see the works of the Lord and his wonders in the deep'.
Covering the oak floor is the original 'Turkey' carpet, supplied by Ziegler to Collcutt's specification. The mahogany dado, inlaid with rosewood and fruit wood decoration, has an art nouveau flower motif. Above, covering the walls up the frieze, are tapestry hangings similar to the William Morris 'Damask' pattern. The present tapestries are reproductions; the surviving original is in the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Gerald Moira's paintings
The barrel-vaulted ceiling and lunette panels of the room are filled with glowing tempera paintings by Moira. The Italianate architecture of the room inspired Moira to produce a composition largely drawn from Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling in the Vatican. In the late 19th century there was great interest in high Renaissance Italian art and architects freely quoted from Michelangelo's sculpture and architecture.
The four central ceiling panels depict the elements: water, fire, air and earth. Each scene holds strong echoes of the Sistine Chapel. Air, for example, has two flying figures clearly taken from Michelangelo's Creation of the Planets and the Creation of Adam. In the rectangular panels alongside the four elements are the symbols of the zodiac. These are pale golden brown to avoid detracting from the main panels.
Side lunette panels are cut into the barrel vault of the ceiling, between the coupled wall columns.
It is important to note that the paintings on these panels are of figures illustrating celestial bodies, seasons and divisions of the day, similar to the way renacentist artist Michelangelo used sibyls and prophets to surround the central theme of creation and the fall from grace. The cross-vault ceilings, over each lunette, have paintings of skies associated with the figures.
The entrance lunette
The lunette over the double doors has a semi-circular bronze relief by Frank Lynn Jenkins. Two sea-maidens support a central clock. The figure on the right, holding a register book, draws back her veil with her free hand and the maiden on the left holds a steamship and a rule book. As in the frieze on the first floor landing, Lynn Jenkins used mother of pearl as a foil to the surrounding bronze, in this case as a clock face.
A Numidian marble arch with raised voussoirs and keystone spans the fireplace opening on the west-end wall. Set between the voussoirs are relief carvings of dolphins. Above the heavily moulded mantle shelf, Ionic Numidian columns frame the chimney-breast.
Set between the columns is a white Carrara marble relief by Bertram Pegram of a Lloyd's Register lady with attendant naval architects, shipowners, ship builders and marine engine builders. The columns rise to the main frieze and cornice, which supports a cambered pediment framing Moira's painting of a globe flanked by the coats of arms of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. Sirens playing harps support this on either side.
The fireplace has a shell-shaped copper smoke hood decorated with repousse sea horses, dolphins and tritons. Magnificent William de Morgan tiles, of Persian floral design typical of the artist's work, surround the grate. Bass studs are set at the intersections of every four tiles. The curved grate front has bronze balustrade-like metalwork extending beyond the fireplace opening.
Complementing this elaborate metal grate is a beautiful pair of Italian bronze andirons in a Renaissance style with filigree decoration and winged putti as finials. The companion set of large tongs, poker and shovel are of fine quality, each with a classical tyrme finial.
The chimney-piece on the east-end wall is similar to the west end but of a simpler design. There are sea horses between the raised voussoirs and plain green 'art' tiles. The iron grate has the Lloyd's Register monogram worked into the metal casting decoration.
Above, the east-end lunette is devoted to a depiction by Moira of Aurora, the goddess of the dawn. Sea horses with webbed feet and fish scaled draw her in a cockleshell through the surging waves.
She is a romantic maiden with flowing hair and a generously draped robe. Sea nymphs and water-babies support her in the water.
The furniture of the General Committee Room
Ever mindful of costs, the Building Sub-Committee did not ask Collcutt to design the chair and tables. This must have particularly galled an architect who began his career as a furniture designer. The splendid electroliers both here and elsewhere in the building were designed by Collcutt.
Maples & Co. was commissioned to produce the new-Georgian mahogany furniture that is still in use today. The design is given a slight art nouveau twist by the rosewood inlay. The Chairman's heavy mahogany chair has a fine inlay depicting a Lloyd's Register lady.
To find out more about the Lloyd's Register lady, click here.