The sculpture represents the city's post-war story. It symbolises the young of the new city rising from the flames of the old city. The phoenix is in the form of a winged woman, her wings raised above her head, they cumulate in sharp points.
The work is placed on a stepped brick base or plinth to which is attached the explanatory plaque. The Phoenix is depicted as a young figure (?male) which stands erect amongst stylised flames looking down at the viewer. The phoenix has very pointed wings which reach upwards and is depicted as a thin or lithe figure. The overall impression is of an angelic or Christ-like being.
Wagstaffe was commissioned to make the sculpture as part of the planning committee's proposal to have works of art in the new precinct. Donald Gibson had intended that a number of sculptural reliefs would be placed on the main blocks of the precinct, with the responsibility for their provision left to the stores that occupied them. Discussion between the occupants of the block, F.W. Woolworth and the planning committee took place between 1954 and 1960. During this time the form of the work was changed to a free-standing sculpture rather than reliefs, this was a result of Gibson's replacement by Arthur Ling as City architect and the conversion of Market Way back to a pedestrian area. In 1959 Alma Ramsey was asked to submit maquettes of figure sculptures, however these were not acceptable to the committee and the matter was deferred until 1960 when George Wagstaffe submitted his scheme. The Phoenix was the sculptor's second design for the work submitted after his earlier scheme in which the concept of reconstruction was expressed as a female figure giving birth to a dove was rejected by the Committee.
The original statue was unveiled by Princess Margaret in 1962. A report commissioned by the Director of Homes and Properties and dated March 11 1981, stated that the penetration of surface moisture and rising damp were causing the iron framework to corrode and flake. Additionally the subsequent expansion of metal is distorting and fracturing the resin. The report felt that the condition was dangerous and the work could only be preserved satisfactorily by being re-cast in a more durable material, preferably by the artist or in consultation with him.(2) The statue was recast in bronze after the original plastic material started to disintegrate.
Phoenix . . .
Bronze plaque set into base, engraved:
'THE PHOENIX / by /GEORGE WAGSTAFFE. 1962'
'This sculpture which symbolises the / rebuilding of Coventry was unveiled May 1962 by / H.R.H. Princess Margaret. / Re-cast in bronze in 1983, and unveiled June 1984 / by the Right Worshipful the Lord Mayor of Coventry, / Councillor W.S> Brandish JP, re-sited here 1987.'
PMSA recording information