Put on a pedestal: Is being immortalised in a public statue the ultimate honour?
Ronald Reagan's is in good company, Michael Jackson's caused a stir and Eric Morecambe's is as entertaining as the man himself.
Friday 19 August 2011
For many people, being deemed worthy enough to be immortalised in a public statue is the ultimate honour. Just ask the family of Charles Dickens, who this week unveiled the winning design of a statue of the much-loved author, which they plan to erect in Portsmouth's Guildhall Square next year, to coincide with the 200th anniversary of his birth in the city.
Created by Martin Jennings, it will be the first statue of the writer in the UK. But it is not the first time that Jennings' work will be featured in such a prominent place – his memorial of the late poet Sir John Betjeman, a longtime fan of Victorian architecture and railways, stands in St Pancras train station. The 7ft, bronze statue of Betjeman gazing skywards, holding on to his hat as his coattails are caught by the wind from a passing train, is a fitting, if somewhat unconventional, tribute to the former Poet Laureate.
New sculptures of much-admired figures seem constantly to be appearing. In 2007, a 9ft bronze statue of Nelson Mandela delivering a speech was unveiled in London's Parliament Square in front of the former President of South Africa himself, who said that he had visited the square in 1962 and had joked that he "hoped one day a statue of a black person would be erected". Earlier this year a 10ft, bronze smiling Ronald Reagan was revealed in Grosvenor Square. Although he may look a little out of place when the American embassy moves out of the square next year, at least he'll be in the company of five other former US Presidents. Another statue unveiled this year was of Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, who was honoured with a charming aluminium effigy outside the headquarters of the British Council.
Not all statues of public figures are quite so well received, however. Recently, Fulham football fans bemoaned they were "a laughing stock" after Mohammed al-Fayed erected a bizarre tribute to Michael Jackson outside the Fulham FC Craven Cottage ground and Maggi Hambling's unconventional A Conversation with Oscar Wilde memorial in Charing Cross continues to divide opinion.
And it's not just presidents and poets who are honoured in sculptural form, even football personalities now qualify for statues and, should you feel moved, you can pay a visit to the likes of Sir Bobby Robson and Jimmy Hill (whose statue's chin is truly monumental).
But the best statues manage to capture the spirit of their subject, and is any representation more fitting than that of comedian Eric Morecambe, depicting him in one of his characteristic poses, on the seafront of his home town in Lancashire, putting a smile on the face of all who pass by?
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