Angel of the North – the story of an icon in Tyne and Wear
Our insider guide to the steel sculpture that lights up a journey along the A1 road
The story of the Angel of the North is the story of a place. During the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century, Tyneside capitalised on coal mining, steel manufacture and shipbuilding, leading Gateshead’s population to rise by 100,000 in 100 years. And after the boom came the bust. By the early 1990s, the decline in heavy industry in this northeast English region was such that, as the Financial Timesput it, “Gateshead turned to art as a means of economic regeneration”.
The story of the Angel of the North is the story of a person: the London-born sculptor, Antony Gormley. A Turner Prize winner, he was commissioned in 1994 by Gateshead Council to create a post-industrial totem. Like much of his work, he used a plaster cast of his own body as the basis for the figure. So why an angel? “No one has ever seen one,” Gormley reasoned, “and we need to keep imagining them.”
The story of the Angel of the North is the story of an icon. It was Gormley’s attempt to translate religious iconography into late 20th-century forms and create an enduring figure that would define a city, like Rio’s Christ the Redeemer or New York’s Statue of Liberty. The Angel offered hope. Crowds cheered its piecemeal arrival by police escort before the corten steel structure was poignantly unveiled on the site of a local colliery’s former baths in February 1998.
“Is it possible to make a work with purpose in a time that demands doubt?” Gormley asked. Twenty years on, the resounding answer is yes.
- 53 The width (in metres) of the Angel of the North’s wingspan
- 33,000,000 Number of people who see the Angel of the North each year
- 200 Sculpture’s weight (in tonnes)
- 800,000 Total cost (in pounds) of the original project
Strange but true
While the Angel cost £800,000, several 1/20th scale models Gormley (pictured) made to test his design have sold for much much more: one fetched £3.4 million at auction in 2011.
Did you know?
Gateshead’s Art in Public Places panel actually shortlisted two sculptors. The other was Sir Anthony Caro, who later co-designed London’s Millennium Bridge.