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Book Review

The Statues of London

The Statues of London

Ronald Asprey and Claire Bullus

Merrell Publishing Ltd

256 pages

 

All across London, we walk by gilded strangers and men of marble. Very little of the time we give these figures our attention or any pause for thought. Yet statuary persists as one of our most enduring and most public artistic traditions and perhaps tells us the most about the others; our relationship to them and their relationship to ourselves. In addition, the personalities that are caught in pose are in every sense remarkable role models and each has an intriguing history behind him or her.

 

The Statues of London provides the perfect familiarisation of this family of the great, the explication of the qualities of each that is broadcast in stone or bronze. It features the best and more interesting statues in London, from Boudicca near the Houses of Parliament to Bobby Moore at Wembley Stadium. Their body language is deftly analysed, their demeanour, their clothes, their accoutrements. The book also re-examines – with a contemporary conscience – the achievement of each. Stunning images by renowned photographer Dennis Gilbert capture the scale and detail of these works across the 32 boroughs of London and Ronald Asprey provides the historical contextualisation and biographical text, as well as commentary on the artisans that crafted the figures.

 

As a chronologically organized work, the book tells us just as much about heroes as the public’s changing constructions and perceptions of them. We begin with Monarchs and Emperors, then, with the advent of Christianity, saints. Afterwards explorers, such as Columbus and Raleigh and scientists such as Bacon and Newton. Now, with the development of cultural consumerism, men of letters such as Samuel Johnson make their entrance, and artists such as William Hogarth. From the time of George Washington, Presidents and Prime Ministers fall into the mixture and these are succeeded by composers such as Mozart with the arrival of popular music onto the scene. From the Victorians, we reward philosophers such as Marx and philanthropists such as Henry Tate, our very own Quintin Hogg, who founded the Polytechnic that was to become the University of Westminster. Women of character and virtue such as Florence Nightingale. Builders and architects such as Bazalgette and Brunel. As we move into the period of world wars and mass media, spectator sports, we celebrate the figures of Chaplin, of warriors, of Bobby Moore.

 

The Statues of London is both a very lovely coffee-table book and also an engaging and lucid guide to the famous personages that have shaped our political and cultural world. Some of the images within it are remarkable. The one that stays in my mind is the bronze figure of Ghandi sitting cross-legged, his brows knitted together and looking down at several bouquets of brightly coloured flowers strewn across his lap. But each stranger is beautiful and deserves more attention. The more I read of the thing, the more I looked, the more I wanted to see, to meet them. And this is the central achievement of The Statues of London. By all accounts, a superb specimen of text, biographical history and photography.

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