Major cleaning operation under way for Wellington Arch's Quadriga sculpture

Famous sculpture on London's Wellington Arch gets a makeover

Europe's largest bronze sculpture, which stands on top of London's famous Wellington Arch, is getting a major clean.

The sculpture, called Quadriga, depicts four horses which represent the forces of the chaos of war being calmed by the angel of peace, and has looked out over central London from its vantage point for more than a century since it was installed in 1912.

During that time, exposure to the elements, traffic fumes and bird droppings have taken their toll, and English Heritage is now cleaning, repairing and re-waxing what the charity describes as one of London's most dramatic sculptures.

Covered in scaffolding, the sculpture has been cleaned of years of dirt, grease and grime by conservators who have also fixed corrosion, flaws, cracks and damage from rain getting into the bronze artwork.

In the next phase of the three-month, £250,000 project, several coats of clear wax are now being applied with the help of blowtorches, to protect the sculpture from future wear and tear.

Kate Mavor, English Heritage's chief executive, said: "We're giving one of London's most dramatic sculptures the tending loving care it deserves.

"Our conservation work will mean that people can enjoy this great work of art for years to come."

The history of the sculpture dates back to 1891, when artist and sculptor Adrian Jones, who was a former army veterinary captain specialising in animal figures, exhibited a plaster sculpture of a four-horse chariot - a quadriga - at the Royal Academy.

The Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII, suggested it would make a suitable adornment for the rebuilt Wellington Arch, which was moved in the 1880s for road widening, and in 1908 Jones started work on a full-sized version using clay and then a plaster mould.

The giant horses, angel, chariot and boy charioteer that make up the sculpture were then cast in bronze and once the arch had been given a new roof with steel girders to support the artwork, it was erected in January 1912.

Conservation of the Quadriga sculpture is the first project in a major "making England shine" scheme by English Heritage, supported by household cleaning products brand Cif, which will see a number of sites conserved in the next few years.