“The Naked Ladies” are a group of unusually posed statues, comprised of eight sea nymphs carved from white Carrara marble atop a rock garden. One naked lady stands atop two horses, while her companions stretch their arms upwards toward her. One offers up a pearl. They are all beautiful, sculpted in a fin de siècle, Pre-Raphaelite inspired style. But because of the strange circumstances by which the ladies came to reside here, their creator’s identity is lost to the ages.
Located in a public garden by York House, the statues were originally the property of Whitaker Wright, an infamous fraud artist who committed suicide in 1904 by cyanide capsule after his conviction. After Wright’s death, his property was removed and auctioned from Witley Park, including the statues. They were moved to York House in 1906, where they were the backdrop for numerous society parties hosted by Sir Ratan Tata. It was during this time period that they earned their plainly descriptive name.
The statues were removed without any notes taken on their original arrangement, so the designers of the York House garden merely guessed at where the Oceanids should go. There is some suggestion that one or two of the figures came from another statuary entirely, and does not belong on the fountain. When they arrived they were worn from 20 years of neglect and vandalism, but a restoration project returned them to their former marbled glory.
In 1924 the grounds became the property of the Twickenham Council, who opened them as a public park. Visitors were shocked and intrigued by the mysterious Oceanids in the fountain. Allegedly during the Blitz of World War II, the moonlight’s reflection on the white marble provided a convenient landmark for bomber planes flying above. When London enacted blackouts, the statues were covered in gray sludge to dull their pearly sheen.
Know Before You Go
Visit the museum on Tuesdays and Saturdays, 11:00am to 3:00pm; Sundays, 2:00pm to 4:00pm. Admission is free. The garden can be accessed by the Embankment or Church Lane in Twickenham.