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Arthur Fleischmann: travelling sculptor

Part 3: Art Crime - Diana and the Hounds and Miranda

In 1955 Fleischmann was commissioned by Lam Biel and Partners to create this sculpture to decorate the entrance to Diana House at 33-34 Chiswell Street in London. For 44 years the sculpture had resided at Diana House and had become a city landmark. The public came to use it as a convenient rendez-vous point for lunch appointments. In the late 1990’s the building changed hands. During the process of the sale, surveyors made an inventory of assets in the building and the sculpture was included. The surveyors noted that the sculpture was in need of restoration and arrangements were made for it to be sent to the Tate Gallery Conservation Department for repair.

On the agreed date the Tate van and art packers arrived at the building only to discover the sculpture missing from the forecourt.

I suppose the art packers concluded "head office" had erroneously double booked the appointment and it had been picked up by colleagues earlier that morning. One can imagine further confusion as head office explained over the phone that "no, there’s no ‘Diana’ here - you’re supposed to pick it up". Later that morning the police were informed and a "Missing Sculpture" report was filed. Until now, despite the efforts of the London Metropolitan Police, the sculpture has not been recovered. Another sculpture entitled "The Goddess Diana" had been stolen that same month during a smash and grab raid on a gallery in St James’. The casual observer might jump to the obvious conclusion that the two incidents were connected.

For the 1951 Festival of Britain, Fleischmann was commissioned to produce a sculpture entitled "Miranda". The larger than life-size Mermaid was sponsored by the Lockheed Brake and Clutch Company. Miranda graced the exhibition area in Battersea Park and, after the Festival closed, it was transported to the Lockheed headquarters in Leamington Spa. It stayed there for nearly 50 years before "disappearing" mysteriously over the Christmas holidays of 2000. In an intriguing parallel with the case of the missing Diana, the Lockheed property had just been bought a few months before in the autumn of 1999 by Merrill Lynch. By sheer and unconnected coincidence Merrill Lynch had just launched a television advertising campaign featuring paramilitary-style personnel airlifting a huge sculpture of the famous Merrill Lynch bull from it’s pediment in a city square - the advert finishing with the usual "Be Bullish" slogan.

The Henry-Moore Institute acquired two terracotta maquettes of Miranda created by Fleischmann in around 1948 (at the same time that he did the portraits of the actor Trevor Howard) and these are on display in the Institute gallery space in Leeds. When a cheeky reporter quipped at Fleischmann during the Festival that everyone knows a mermaid has a tail and not two legs with fins, my father replied that he had never seen a mermaid and so couldn’t comment.

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