The Historians magazine

Page 20



et’s face it, when someone mentions public sculpture – rarely does it ignite any form of excitement and wonder. Why? Well, if you ask me, an art historian and sculpture specialist, public sculpture suffers historically from the three B’s: Bronze, big and boring. My analysis may seem brutal, but I ask you -how many times have you stopped and really looked at a work of public sculpture? Well, not to worry; there is an unlikely spot in London which has witnessed a wave of new and interesting public artworks which are more than deserving of your time. Westminster, not only the hub of Britain’s government activity, its public sculpture in and around the Palace of Westminster celebrate many great figures in history and surprisingly, not all of them are political figures. Here is a brief look into the interesting histories surrounding 3 public sculptures that you can find in and around this pocket of London.

The Mary Seacole Memorial Sculpture Artist: Martin Jennings Date Unveiled: 2016 Where: Westminster Road, Westminster Mary Seacole was a British-Jamaican nurse who treated British troops during the Crimean War. She was posthumously voted first in a poll of ‘100 Great Black Britons’ in 2014. Travelling to the Crimea i independently, after her attempts to join the official nursing school led by Florence Nightingale was 20


unsuccessful, Seacole set up a base hospital as a recreational and convalescence facility for officers and was referred to as “Mother Seacole” by those she treated. Returning to England in 1856, she published an autobiography entitled ‘Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands’ the following year. Further to the release of her book, a fundraiser was held in Covent Garden for Seacole by those soldiers she treated after it was discovered she was living in poverty. This fundraiser set Seacole up for life. After her death, she largely disappeared from public awareness until the centenary of her death in 1991 revived an interest by the general public. The figure of Seacole stands facing the houses of parliament. The disc which is behind the figure imitates the land surface where Seacole established her hospital base during the war which the artist scanned and reproduced through the help of 3D printing! Artist Jennings intended the disc to hold a literal significance - as a depiction of the place where her reputation was first established, and a symbolic meaning - a reminder of the block to her ambitions. Seacole’s statue is generally considered to be the first in Britain to recognise a named black woman in history. It was unveiled to the public in 2016.

The Burghers of Calais Artist: Auguste Rodin Date Unveiled: 1911 Where: Victoria Tower Gardens, Westminster Upon first glance, Rodin’s Burghers of Calais appears to be a group of helpless figures dress in sackcloth, but there is much more to the work when you look again knowing its history. Rodin was commissioned in 1885 by the French city of Calais to create a sculpture to commemorate the heroic actions of six esteemed members of Calais who sacrificed their lives to save the city during the 100 years’ war which began in 1337 between France and England.The story goes; King Edward III of England had taken

the city and gave the citizen a choice, surrender the six most esteemed members of the city and present the key of Calais to him, or all should perish. Rodin’ sculpture depicts the moments the six noblemen of Calais leave the city, and are making their way to King Edward III’s camp to die. Their varying expressions of despair and terror within the group is masterfully captured by the French sculptor, one of the figures is even depicted carrying the key to the city to present to the king. Under the king’s command, all the men had to have their heads bare, be bound together in rope and be wearing sackcloth which further explains their appearance. The story however has a happy ending, the burghers (townspeople) were save by Edward’s wife, Queen Philippa of Hainault, who was worried the King’s actions would be a bad omen for their unborn child. However, many historians believe this not to be the case and think this was an act of pre-arranged political theatre. There are 12 versions of this sculpture all over the world. Examples can be found in Tokyo, Basel, Jerusalem, California anddCalais.

Millicent Garrett Fawcett Statue – Courage Calls to Courage Everywhere Artist: Gillian Wearing Date Unveiled: 2018 Where: Parliament Square This sculpture honours the life and work of British suffragist leader and social campaigner Millicent Garrett Fawcett who spent her life championing the right for women to vote. Fawcett was a pivotal figure in the forming of the UK’s main suffragist organisation, the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, when it was founded in 1897 after 17 individual suffragette groups merged. By 1905 it had over 50,000 members and saw Fawcett become its president between 1907 and 1919. The work depicts Fawcett in her 50’s holding a banner quoting: ‘Courage Calls to Courage Everywhere’,