Art Loss Register Returns Bust To London Church

| July 19, 2011

In early 1941, the German Luftwaffe carried out a sustained, strategic bombing campaign across the city of London. For 76 consecutive nights, bombs rained down on the country's capital severely damaging more than one million buildings, among them the mediaeval church of St Olave Hart Street.

St Olave's, the resting place of famous diarist Samuel Pepys, took a direct hit on the night of April 17, 1941. The explosion reduced 90 percent of the building's original stonework to rubble and buried many of the church's treasured artworks.

Yet despite the success of the salvage operations that followed, the church could find no trace of one of their largest monuments — an early Seventeenth Century funerary bust of eminent botanist and physician Dr Peter Turner. The missing work had formed part of a larger memorial erected by Turner's wife around 1614. Turner's remains are buried underneath the church along with those of his father, William Turner (himself eminent as one-time dean of Wells and author of the first herbal in English).

Between 1951 and 1954, an impressive rebuild of St Olave's was completed and various recovered artworks put back on display. While the bust remained missing, the corner where the work had once sat was left empty as officials remained hopeful that the monument might one day resurface.

It was not until April 2010 that the bust of Dr Turner was finally located when consigned for sale at regional UK auction house Dreweatts. Alerted to the impending sale by a curator at the Museum of London, church officials immediately contacted the Art Loss Register (ALR), which agreed to take the case on a pro bono basis.

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