Sunday, July 08, 2007

Sculpture, sculptors, Sir John Steell and Edinburgh

Here's a piece of Edinburgh esoterica from John Scott Haldane's life that didn't manage to make it into my new bio of the great man.
As kids, John and his siblings squeezed into their upstairs nursery window in their home at 17 Charlotte Square, Edinburgh. They held hand mirrors, dazzling the pedestrians going down the alley to their left - and dazzling the sculptor working on his statue of Alexander and Bucephalus in the courtyard of the house to their right.
This was the most celebrated sculptor of his day, Sir John Steell. Fifty years in the making, the statue now stands in the forecourt of City Chambers, on Edinburgh's Royal Mile.
I like these sprigs of detail that biographical research brings to light. I'd never thought previously about the human endeavour and the foibles of the creative process that go into these monumental works. great as he was, Sir John Steell does seem to have been wiped from history somehow.
While this statue pays homage to the subscribers who had it erected, I saw no note of who the sculptor was.
Maybe that says something about Victorian values, praising the moneymen and scuttling the creator off into the margins. Or maybe it's simply that sculptors were stuck in some rut whereby they were seen as celebrating others. Edinburgh has a great statue of Walter Scott by Steell himself at the heart of the Scott Monument on Edinburgh's Princes Street, while another of his graces New York's Central Park, so literature was presumably given more esteem than sculpture. At the recent Royal Academy exhibition I admire the sculpture of a naked Voltaire. Are there any such sculptures of sculptors? Shouldn't there be?


Blogger Mary Witzl said...

On a recent trip to Edinburgh, I could not help but notice how many statues of famous men there were, most of them striking rather dashing poses, hands extended in a grandiose manner, sitting pompously on prancing horses, etc. What made it all a little funny was the fact that almost all of them had either seagulls perched on their heads or, to be polite, seagull leavings dripping down. It struck me that if I were a famous person, I would want any sculpture done of myself with seagulls in mind, perhaps with an ironic, amused look on my face and my eyes fixed on my outstretched hands. Maybe I'm cynical, but I'll bet the sculptors working on those statues knew all about seagulls and their behavior in public places...

1:26 PM  
Blogger Martin said...

Aha ... so that's why we don't have statues of sculptors in public places!

4:24 PM  

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