London In Six Sculptures


London has so many statues that no-one notices two-thirds of them. Putting up a public figure always courts controversy, which is why we ended up with the Princess Diana Drainage Ditch of Doom (so-called because children kept falling over in it). The design ‘aims to reflect Diana’s life’; it feels almost embarrassed to be there. Water flows from the highest point in two directions as it cascades and bubbles before meeting in a pool at the bottom. The water is constantly refreshed and drawn from London’s water table. You can splash about in it. It’s impossible to photograph adequately. It’s definitely not royal.

Meanwhile, the recently arrived statue of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother returns to traditional roots. It gives a much-loved maternal figure more grandeur, and the choice of bronze allows it to fit with the statue of her husband, behind. There’s a classical grace and elegance, and you get the feeling she would have approved. What do sculptures have to capture about their subjects? An essence, a bearing, a status?


Modern approaches to public sculpture celebrate aspects of urban life. Unfortunately no-one has managed to dynamite Paul Day’s hideously kitsch St Pancras statue of snogging giants, or Maggi Hambling’s grotesque, bizarre take on Oscar Wilde, a man who was nothing if not aesthetically pleasing, here turned into a Medusa rising from its coffin with a lit fag. There’s nothing about Oscar here at all, partly because you’re meant to sit on the statue, which places him lower than you. I’d prefer to sit at the feet of a master.

Well-meaning but not much better is the somewhat lifeless and apologetic new statue of Millicent Fawcett, the British feminist, intellectual, political and union leader, writer and suffragist. Now at least there is a woman commemorated in Parliament Square, home to eleven statesmen. It was unveiled to celebrate the 100th anniversary of women winning the right to vote in Britain. She’s wearing tweed and carrying a sign. Compassion is here, although the Edith Cavell statue in St Martin’s Lane has more inspirational power.

Over on Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth, kept empty to allow for a rotating display of sculptures, we currently have Michael Rakowitz’s 10,000 used date syrup tin cans recreating the Lamassu. This winged bull and protective deity guarded the entrance to the Nergal Gate of Nineveh (near modern day Mosul) from c700 BC until it was destroyed by Daesh in 2015. The new artwork is called ‘The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist’. It represents a powerful and relevant idea, that the destruction of art cannot remove the idea.


The good thing is that art continues to be controversial. I’m not overly impressed with Tracy Emin’s pink neon writing at St Pancras as art per se. It feels as if she scribbled it on a notepad and bunged it over to her workers before breakfast, but it’s very pretty, even though she has clearly nicked the typeface from Francis Ford Coppola’s logo for ‘One From The Heart’. But who wants station art to be forbidding and hard to interpret? Emin is a lightweight artist and the sentiment works well here.

Finally, there’s a type of new sculpture I dislike; Trompe-l’œil nonsense ‘conceived’ with a sponsor, basically functioning as a giant marketing ploy. Alex Chinneck (who doesn’t do small, or deep) has ‘teamed up’ with Vauxhall (ie they’re presumably paying for it) to create…er, an ad for Vauxhall to which the only response is ‘How did they stick it on?’

Antony Gormley’s ‘Quantum Cloud’ and Landseer’s magnificent lions still conjure London best for me, along with Gilbert’s Eros. And the worst? Paul Day’s Mills & Boon lovers (seen under Emin’s sign) are so bad I can’t bring myself to repost them here, and Anish Kapoor made a rare misstep with ‘ArcelorMittel Orbit’, the red tubular Olympic Park sculpture so disliked that it was turned into a children’s slide. The important thing is that we continue to see new art in the capital.




8 comments on “London In Six Sculptures”

  1. Jan says:

    My favourite statue in London by far (We’ve discussed this b4)

    The boy and the Dolphin outside the Mercedes Benz garage on Chelsea embankment. I love that statue after doing really long shifts which back in the day could easily be 16-17 hours or more I used to drive along The Embankment. With the windows on the mini rolled right down so I would stay awake. So beautiful that statue of the boy being pulled along by the Dolphin. Looked so beautiful just about at dawn on a very early summer morning or on some freezing winters night was still wonderful. Only REAL problem was it’s back drop which was the flash garage not the Thames. Some dopey mermaid figure got the riverside. I always felt she would have been better suited to the Mercedes cars like some model at the motor show and the boy could have had the river.

    Only after I moved down to Dorzet did I discover the statue of the Girl with the Dolphin at St Kathryns Dock just by Tower Bridge. Within the City of London. She actually gets to swim with the Thames by her side. Not as perfect as the slightly later boy statue. She went in to the dock in 1973 the boy followed in Chelsea in 1975. She’s in front of the massive hotel just E of Tower Bridge.

    The sculptor is some guy called David Wynne who died back in 2014. Born 1926 so he had a good long life. The model for the boy and the Dolphin seems to have been his grandson Roland David Amadius WYNNE. 1964 – 1999 died in a road traffic accident. Not old at all. l suppose he will always be the beautiful boy with the dolphin.

  2. Jan says:

    Tell you what my other favourite sculptures are. Sticking with the nautical them if you look at the lamposts in the mall they all bear the sculptures of little galleons. Each one is different they are all intricately detailed and they are reproductions if Nelsons fleet. Of course Lord Nelson is keeping an eye in his fleet from his vantage point in Trafalgar Square. Isn’t that lovely?

    There’s a code to do with the statues of military heroes on horseback in the capital. And cos I’m a Numpty now I’ve mentioned it I can’t really remember how it goes. Think it’s something to do with whether the statues feet are in the stirrups (if that’s the right word I did an early shift today now I am in a brain slowdown session) If the feet are in the stirrups he was killed in battle, out of stirrups he died later of wounds from the battle(….if he’s on the floor next to the horse this indicates was thrown off! No not really.) There’s at least one statue without a saddle probably meaning the rider lost at cards the night before the battle. I know its all strangec triviax but you know Me I live for this stuff.

  3. Jan says:

    Maggi Hambling seems to have got Oscar Wilde a bit mixed up with the portrait from Dorian Gray….

    Millicent Fawcett looks like she’s folding her tea towels up

    Still can’t understand your regard for the Edith Cavell statue.

  4. Ken Mann says:

    There is a relief with Dorian Gray on it near St James Square. It is part of a sort of memorial to the vanished St James Theatre.

  5. Ian Luck says:

    I must say that I don’t really like the Oscar Wilde sculpture. It could have been so much better, but the representation of the Victorian era’s best known and loved ‘Somdomite’ looks like it was extruded out of a ‘Play-Doh’ Fun Factory toy. I met Maggi Hambling several times, in 1991, when I worked as a summer relief in the Ipswich Museums. In Christchurch Mansion, there were several attendants, each of whom was responsible for a particular part of the building when open. A lot of these guys were near retirement age, and to a man, they were terrified of Ms. Hambling, who curated various temporary exhibitions on the site. I’d been there a couple of days (It was a lovely, lovely job), and I was in my allotted area, when this lady walked up to me, and asked if I was frightened of her. I said “No”, and she said “Good” and walked off. After that, where she was rather brusque with the older guys (I suspect just to wind them up) she would always greet me cordially, which really wound up some of the other attendants.

  6. Ian Luck says:

    If some of you are wondering what ‘Somdomite’ means, it’s how the Marquis Of Queensbury, referred to Wilde in a famous letter. The Marquis was obviously so outraged, that the spelling of ‘Sodomite’ escaped him. It’s an error that has always amused me.

  7. Ian Luck says:

    I do quite like the dark and frightening Fleet Air Arm memorial, I don’t know why, but I do, and I don’t care, but I love the reliefs on the Battle Of Britain memorial. They’re full of life. I also have a soft spot for the small statue of Doctor Johnson’s cat, Hodge.

  8. Jan says:

    Ian where is the Fleet air arm memorial?

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