Maggi Hambling defends nude Mary Wollstonecraft statue: ‘There are plenty of schlongs honouring men’

Artist caused controversy when naked sculpture of feminist icon was unveiled last month

Maggi Hambling and her scultpure for Mary Wollstonecraft
Maggi Hambling and her scultpure for Mary Wollstonecraft

Maggi Hambling, the artist behind the controversial Mary Wollstonecraft statue, has defended her work.

Last month, the artist made headlines after her nude sculpture of the feminist icon Wollstonecraft was unveiled in London.

“Nameless, nude, and conventionally attractive is the only way women have ever been acceptable in public sculpture. This was a chance to break from those conventions, no?” tweeted one critic.

In an interview with The Guardian, Hambling defended her decision to depict the “mother of feminism” as a naked woman, saying: “Oh, but there are plenty of schlongs honouring men in art.”  

She added: “The figure had to be nude because clothes define people. Put someone in country tweeds and they become horsey. Put someone in period dress and they become part of history. I didn’t want to do that to her.”

On whether she would have done the statue differently had she known the uproar it would cause, Hambling said: “No. I couldn’t. I’m not in control of what I do. The subject speaks through me when I work.”

Wollstonecraft was an early pioneer of human rights. Her book, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, published in 1792, called for gender equality a century ahead of the suffragettes.

Hambling was revealed as the chosen artist for the Wollstonecraft sculpture in 2018.

She is best known for her sculpture of Oscar Wilde in Covent Garden, which depicts the poet and playwright laughing and smoking. She also faced derision from critics when it was unveiled in 1998.

The Independent’s critic Tom Lubbock wrote at the time: “We have nothing of the nerve, the folly, the ruin, the glory. We have nothing for history – only the whimsical notion of us chatting cheerfully with this anodyne figment.”

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