Kate Greenaway's Hampstead studio gets a new lease on life

PUBLISHED: 12:12 12 April 2007 | UPDATED: 14:30 07 September 2010

French artist installs himself in Victorian illustrator Kate Greenaway s former home by Alison Oldham A Victorian artist s studio in Hampstead has been returned to the art world. In 1885 the illustrator Kate Greenaway commissioned architect Norman Sh

French artist installs himself in Victorian illustrator Kate Greenaway's former home

by Alison Oldham

A Victorian artist's studio in Hampstead has been returned to the art world. In 1885 the illustrator Kate Greenaway commissioned architect Norman Shaw to design a house in Frognal on a plot of land that cost her £2,000. For about the same amount again he built the handsome tile-hung house where she lived and worked until her death in 1901.

The building faces north-east, so to create a studio facing the north light, Shaw made a rectangular room rotated through 45 degrees within the attic, an audacious arrangement he repeated elsewhere. A corner room served as a tea room where nannies were plied with refreshments whilst their charges modelled for Greenaway.

For many years the attic floor was rented out, then bought by people with no connection to the arts. John Aldus, a French artist who moved to London 10 years ago, is now installed there. He intends to reinstate the studio as a working space and hopes it will be included in next September's Open House event.

A major part of Aldus' work is in interventions in public spaces. He aims to make a site more understandable and people aware of its significance. "I want to make a place speak about itself in the most direct way so I don't import what I already know how to do," says Aldus. "I like to feel free of any style, form or vocabulary."

It's an approach that's won many commissions. He has created a 40,000km long "sculpture" inviting the viewer to travel along a water ring all around the world. In the courtyard of Geneva University's school of engineering he made a piece which creates a dialogue between technology and nature. By turning a handle, a garden weighing 35 tons can be moved along rails to overhang a walkway.

More controversial is his winning entry for a competition held in 1992 by the city of Martigny in the Great St Bernard Pass in the Alps. He felt that Martigny, important for its location as a gateway between the north and south of Europe and rich in Roman remains, was losing its character because of new developments.

Aldus proposed to echo a tower built 700 years ago, to see the danger coming from a distance, with a new tower of light. It's to be located on the opposite side of the valley, is the same size as its older twin and speaks about danger coming now from inside the city.

His current project is a commission from Camden Council to enhance Marchmont Street in Bloomsbury.

An important historical feature of the area was the Foundling Hospital, founded by Thomas Coram in 1739 in Lamb's Conduit Fields.

William Hogarth depicted Coram a year later, surrounded by the trappings of his career as a sea captain, ship-builder and merchant. They were friends and both childless. Hogarth became one of the first governors of Coram's institution for the maintenance and education of children whose mothers might otherwise have abandoned them to live rough on the streets of London.

Aldus focuses on a poignant testimony to the institution - the collection of tokens that mothers left with their children for recognition if circumstances allowed them to return. About 40 of these are now at the Foundling Museum.

Naïve, inventive, sometimes skilful and sophisticated, the tokens are imbued with love, regrets and hope. A selection of elements from this collection form the vocabulary of the work, translating shapes into metal inserts of various sizes within the paving stones. The project aims to invite passers-by to reflect on what in today's life could inspire the compassion that animated Thomas Coram's spirit.

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