Comet Sweepers

The ‘Comet Sweepers’ an historic art commission for Crest Nicholson’s Bath Riverside. 

A key part of Crest Nicholson’s Bath Riverside Arts Strategy is its inspiration from the visual landscape of Bath and its heritage. The ‘Comet Sweepers’ by local artist Patrick Haines is a significant commission from Crest Nicholson combining references to Bath’s furniture makers and to the world-renowned astronomers, Caroline and William Herschel.

Patrick Haines has carefully researched various chair designs on which to base his sculpture. It was no easy job finding a design that was of the period, not French, had links with Bath, was sturdy and that he could happily dismantle.  Having been considered for authenticity, comfort and functionality the chair chosen is an 18C design that the Herschels could possibly have used to make their night sky observations and is likely to have been made in Bath. The chairs were carefully disassembled and then cast in bronze.  Patrick added significance to the sculpture with the addition of an astronomical pattern in the seats, which gives the appearance of an embroidered, woven fabric and incorporated Caroline’s notebook and a telescope at the base of the chairs, as if the couple were soon to return.

The two chairs have been placed on a raised viewing platform overlooking the river Avon, facing in the direction of New King Street, where the Herschel museum is located. The museum is based where the Herschel’s once lived and is within walking distance of the ‘Comet Sweepers’.

Friedrich Wilhelm Herschel (15 November 1738 – 25 August 1822) was born in Hanover Germany. He played oboe in his regimental band and in 1775 arrived in England when his regiment was posted as part of the alliance with Germany under George II reign. He left the army, learned English and changed his name to Frederick Wllliam Herschel. He became famous for his discovery of the planet Uranus, along with two of its major moons (Titania and Oberon), and also discovered two moons of Saturn. In addition, he was the first person to discover the existence of infrared radiation. His sister, Caroline Lucretia Herschel (16 March 1750 – 9 January 1848) discovered several comets and contributed the recording of the observations and was accomplished in making lenses and telescopes.

Not only are these two famous scientists connected to the location, making them suitable historical figures worthy of a tribute but their work, appropriately for The Elements Public Art Strategy for Bath Riverside, also contributed to the science of spectroscopy. Because each element’s spectral emission is unique it can be used to identify the individual elements of the periodic table.

The chairs of the ‘Comet Sweepers’, appear from a distance, to be antiques left unattended within the contemporary landscape of Bath Riverside. The impression is domestic not public and their scale is not monumental but realistic. The sculpture plays with the expectations of what you might find in a newly built modern environment and perhaps what is expected of a contemporary work of public art.  The Georgian style of the chairs, that is so associated with Bath contrasts with the modern architecture, reversing the relationship of Bath Riverside with the treasured heritage of the city. Whilst the furniture of ‘Comet Sweepers’ is historic and decorative the contrast with the surrounding aesthetic is contemporary.

Because of the detail and craftsmanship the trompe-l’œil (deception of the eye) operates right up until an enquiring spectator decides to sit in one of the chairs, at which point the cold hard surface and sculptural nature of the chair is revealed. This delightful revelation has the effect of granting permission and welcoming the audience to sit and reflect on the surroundings of the riverside. A couple sitting in the chairs will inadvertently place themselves in the roles of Caroline and William posed in a traditional portrait composition. The form of a seated couple as public art is an ancient tradition from Egyptian royalty to Henry Moore’s notable ‘King and Queen’ however unlike the many derivations of this form it is the public that complete the picture in Patrick Haines’ artwork.

Please share your photographs of the ‘Comet Sweepers’ here

Peter Dickinson
Lead Artist and Arts Consultant
Bath Riverside
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