Standing to the west of the Long Water in Kensington Gardens–in the same spot as Peter lands in the story ‘The Little White Bird,’ is the bronze statue of Peter Pan, surrounded by squirrels, rabbits, mice and fairies.
The creator of Peter Pan, JM Barrie, lived near Kensington Gardens on Bayswater Road and his stories were inspired in part by the gardens. He commissioned Sir George Frampton to build the statue in 1912. It has been a popular feature of the gardens since 1912.
The sculpture stands about 14 feet high and has a conical form, like a tree trunk, topped by an approximately life sized eight year old boy. He blows a thin musical instrument. like a trumpet or flute. The sides of the trunk are decorated with small figures of squirrels, rabbits, mice, and fairies.
Barrie had intended the boy to be based on a photograph of Michael Llewelyn Davies wearing a Peter Pan costume, but Frampton chose another model, possibly James W. Shaw or William A. Harwood. Barrie was disappointed by the results, claiming the statue “didn’t show the Devil in Peter.”
A completed plaster model of the work was exhibited at the Royal Academy in May 1911.
Barrie had the original bronze erected in London on 30 April 1912, without fanfare and without permission. He wanted it to suddenly appear, as if fairies had put it in place overnight. He published a notice in The Times the following day, 1 May: “There is a surprise in store for the children who go to Kensington Gardens to feed the ducks in the Serpentine this morning. Down by the little bay on the south-western side of the tail of the Serpentine they will find a May-day gift by Mr J.M. Barrie, a figure of Peter Pan blowing his pipe on the stump of a tree, with fairies and mice and squirrels all around. It is the work of Sir George Frampton, and the bronze figure of the boy who would never grow up is delightfully conceived.”
Barrie donated the sculpture to the city of London, although some critics objected to him advertising his works by erecting a sculpture in a public park without permission.
Through the miracles of our day, you can now “bring the Peter Pan statue magically to life with your smartphone, as part of Talking Statues. Simply swipe your phone on the nearby plaque and get a personal call-back from Peter Pan.” I didn’t try it, but it sounds like fun for children!
Six other casts of this sculpture by the original artist have been erected in other locations around the world.