Today Marks the End of London’s Striking World War I Poppy Installation

In honor of Remembrance Day, or Veterans Day.

Each year, November 11 is observed across the world—be it as Veterans Day in the US, Remembrance Day in the UK, or more generally as Armistice Day—to mark the end of hostilities during World War I. This year, as Europe commemorates the 100th anniversary of the war’s start, the holiday will mark the completion of the popular art installation of ceramic poppies that has overtaken the grounds of the Tower of London.

Comprising 888,246 blood red flower sculptures (one for each of the soldiers from the UK and its colonies who were killed during the war), Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red has been slowly spreading across the Tower moat since July. The installation is a collaboration between ceramic artist Paul Cummins and stage designer Tom Piper.

All told, the hand-sculpted flowers used 400 tons of clay, with 300 poppy-makers working for a year to manufacture the pieces and 25,000 volunteers assisting in the installation. Now that the project has reached its zenith, however, the de-installation process will begin on Wednesday, with an 11,000-person-strong army enlisted to complete the mammoth task.

Paul Cummins and Tom Piper, Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red (2014), at the Tower of London, marks the centennial of Britain's entrance into World War I. Photo: John McLellan, via the <em>Daily Mail</em>.

Paul Cummins and Tom Piper, Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red (2014), at the Tower of London, marks the centennial of Britain’s entrance into World War I.
Photo: John McLellan, via the Daily Mail.

Politicians, including deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, have petitioned to keep the poppies in place after the 11th. The majority of Britons seem to agree: in an online poll conducted by the Guardian, 60 percent of respondents were in favor of the installation continuing. Others weren’t such big fans: British actress Sheila Hancock argued on a talk show that “a tank should mow down the poppies and leave them shattered and broken like the bodies of the guys that died.” The Tower has installed flood lights to cater to late-night visitors hoping to see the work in its final days. An estimated 4 million people have made a pilgrimage to the site throughout its run.

In response to the project’s popularity, after visiting the poppy installation on Saturday and planting the final poppies with his wife Samantha, prime minister David Cameron has offered the work a stay of execution, albeit it in reduced scale. “I think the exhibition of the poppies has really caught the public imagination, people have found that incredibly moving,” Cameron said in a statement, acknowledging that the artwork had “in a very short space of time become a much loved and respected monument.”

The majority of the piece will still be dismantled starting this week, so that the individual poppies can be sent to those who purchased them for £25 ($42) each. However, the so-called Weeping Window, with flowers spilling out of a tower window, and the Wave, which crashes over the entry bridge, will stay in place through at least the end of the month. The two sections of the installation will then embark on a museum tour of the country through 2018, the 100th anniversary of the war’s end, before entering the permanent collection of the Imperial War Museum.

Paul Cummins and Tom Piper, Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red (2014), at the Tower of London, marks the centennial of Britain's entrance into World War I. In its final days, the installation has attracted large crowds of late-night visitors. Photo: Nigel Howard, via the <em>London Evening Standard</em>.

Paul Cummins and Tom Piper, Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red (2014), at the Tower of London, marks the centennial of Britain’s entrance into World War I. In its final days, the installation has attracted large crowds of late-night visitors.
Photo: Nigel Howard, via the London Evening Standard.

 

The £500,000 ($790,000) tour will be paid for by the government, using funds from fines resulting our of the Libor banking scandal. “What we’ve managed to do is find a way of saving part of the exhibition for the nation and making sure it will be seen by many more people,” added Cameron.

Expect an uptick in #TowerPoppies posts on social media as visitors get a last look at the artwork in its final form.


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