Where: British Library, Euston Road, NW1
“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”
Apt, then, that a bronze sculpture of the man sits atop a giant plinth outside the British Library just down the road from St. Pancras station. The work of artist Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, it is based on a 1795 image of Newton by William Blake.
Newton’s work into the inner workings of the world reduced the Universe to one seemingly entirely governed by mathematical law – Newton believed in a “clockwork” universe in which, if the position of every particle could be known, nature’s laws could be applied to entirely predict their future locations.
It is, then, that both Blake and Paolozzi depict Newton in a god like role of “divine geometer” armed with a pair of compasses. His hands are enormous compared to the compasses, reinforcing the idea of the physicist’s power. The clockwork, almost robotic nature of Newton’s ideas are reflected in the Frankenstein’s monster-esque bolts which hinge the sculpture’s shoulders, hips, elbows, wrists and ankles.
Hunched right over, and with a look of pained commitment, it is as if Newton’s sees it as his duty to dedicate himself to unveiling nature’s rules. The effect is even greater when you know that Einstein’s relativity revolution and advances in quantum physics blew the clockwork universe idea out the water in the early 20th Century.
As someone who studied physics at university, and makes a living out of talking to people about how the universe works, I love Paolozzi’s depiction of the scientific giant. Rather than being triumphalist, the sculpture captures well the notion of Newton’s relentless pursuit of knowledge and the mental strain required. The nuts and bolts effect also plays with the idea of the man becoming his work. As a free sculpture within apple throwing distance of a major rail terminus, you’d be hard pressed to find an excuse not to go and have a look.