Norwich – Breath by Paul de Monchaux

Just to show how little attention I pay to things sometimes, this sculpture has been here since 2011 and I’ve never really paid it the slightest bit of attention. It was commissioned by the council as part of the process of modernising the site of the city’s war memorial.

The war memorial was first unveiled in 1927, when it was located outside of the Guildhall (photo here) and it was moved in front of Norwich City Hall in 1938 (photo here). In 2011, the war memorial was moved slightly to face the other way, looking at Norwich City Hall, with this bronze sculpture placed where the memorial had once stood. The move was requested by veterans, as the memorial wasn’t being treated with respect by those who found themselves sitting near to it, so it needed a more fitting location.

The stone on the pavement noting the sculpture. The bronze sculpture is meant to show the connection between life and death, although I have to be honest and note that I struggle to see what the artist had in mind here. However, I like the concept and the motto notes “the living honour the dead, only a breath divides them”. It was quite a brave commission though, and there is something in the thought that it was only chance that divided those who lived and those who died in war.

The official information about the sculpture notes:

“Breath is made up of two elements: a tall central slab, flanked on each side by seven ‘leaves’ whose geometry suggests growth. The central element reflects Lutyens’ stone of remembrance”.

The war memorial itself was designed by Edwin Lutyens, one of the great architects of his generation. What I hadn’t realised until today is that he designed Castle Drogo, which is I think my favourite National Trust property. Although this isn’t perhaps Lutyens’s crowning glory, the thing leaks terribly and it’s costing the National Trust a small fortune to fix.

Anyway, I digress. I like the boldness of this sculpture and the concept is one that’s perhaps worth pondering.