Right of Reply: Jeremy Isaacs

A campaigner for a monument to Oscar Wilde replies to Tom Lubbock's criticism of the new sculpture
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The Independent Culture
HAPPY FACES in Adelaide Street - smiles, tears, thanks, congratulations. Maggi Hambling's A Conversation with Oscar Wilde may not please Tom Lubbock, but it already evokes more favourable response from the public than any other statue I know in London, with the possible exception of Peter Pan. I don't just mean from those who laid flowers in tribute after the unveiling, or who affixed a red Aids knotted ribbon to the granite below Oscar's collar. I mean those who have come out of their way to have a look, and those who have just, by serendipity and happenstance, been passing by and spotted a recognisable, friendly image of someone they admire, sitting up taking notice, smoking away the while, and preparing to converse. Oscar enlivens the Strand and Maggi Hambling can take pride in the statement she makes.

The committee of helpers who gathered round me first thought, after debate, that the statue should not be a plain exact likeness, but something, informed by the imagination, which would have amused Oscar himself. Too much sculpture in London stands on forbidding pedestals above the pedestrian. All we really see at street level is the name on the plinth. Maggi's proposal, we realised gratefully, would be friendlier than that, something to smile at, an encounter to remember.

Plenty of folk will have their picture taken talking to Oscar, as they do with the Lifeguards in Whitehall, or the lions in Trafalgar Square. We shall have added a little to the gaiety of London's streetscape. Brian, who keeps a stall selling summer ice-cream and winter roasted chestnuts at the bottom of the street, tells me people love it, and expects trade to boom. At least it is different, and it is just the unexpected that keeps cities alive.