Academic journal article The Sculpture Journal

Framing Victoria: Royal Portraiture and Architectural Sculpture in Victorian Britain

Academic journal article The Sculpture Journal

Framing Victoria: Royal Portraiture and Architectural Sculpture in Victorian Britain

Article excerpt

In March 1901 the 'topic of the month' in the Review of Reviews, a monthly periodical published between 1890 and 1919, was the national memorial to Queen Victoria, who had died in January 1901 after sixty-three years on the throne.1 A committee had been appointed to the project within weeks of Victoria's death and it was about to publish its plans for a memorial in front of Buckingham Palace, designed by the sculptor Thomas Brock and the architect Aston Webb.2 According to the Review of Reviews, there was an unequivocal need for such a memorial, and yet 'it would be very deplorable if a great national opportunity were to result in nothing more than the addition of one more to the numerous statues of the Queen which have been erected in all parts of her dominions'. Indeed, Victoria's sculpted form had become so common, the article suggested, that '[i]f our census were to be as wide in range as that of the United States of America we might almost expect to have a special schedule devoted to an enumeration of the statues and busts of the Queen which have been erected in Great Britain and Greater Britain. Statues of the Queen are already as plentiful as blackberries.'3

This caustic commentary alluded to the increasing proliferation of public statues of Victoria in the last decades of the nineteenth century. According to the art historian Benedict Read, public statues of Victoria were erected as early as 1842, just five years into her reign, but they proliferated at an increasing rate in the 1880s and 1890s.4 Indeed, as Jennifer Powell has revealed, at least 84 full-size, free-standing statues of Victoria had been erected by the time she died, 48 in the United Kingdom and 36 in locations across the British Empire.5 The article in the Review of Reviews suggested that, by 1901, the collective quantity of these statues rendered them individually meaningless. Yet Powell's research also indicates that an additional 77 statues were erected after 1901, 38 of them in the United Kingdom and 39 across the empire.6 Furthermore, many statues of Victoria erected before and after her death were locally funded, as Elizabeth Darby's survey of commemorative statues of Victoria and Albert demonstrated.7 This prolonged and widespread proliferation of statues of Victoria suggests that they were endowed with great significance. In part, this was because Victoria's public image was widely disseminated through a mass media, which had its roots in the eighteenth century but blossomed from the mid-nineteenth century onwards.8 This made Victoria equally recognizable in places as far apart as Dublin and Durban. However, while a relatively fixed image of Victoria was disseminated across the globe, it was assimilated in distinct ways in different locations. It was this balance between the stability of Victoria's image and the elasticity of its meaning that made commemorative statues of her so valuable in such a variety of places, as I reveal here with reference to three particular examples.

While Victoria was, for the most part, commemorated through free-standing statues prominently situated in town squares or public parks, a small number of sculptural representations of the queen were incorporated into the façades of buildings. For example, statues of Victoria by Edward Ambrose (1849), Joseph Durham (1866), J. W. Seale (c.1873) and Albert Hemstock Hodge (1914) were incorporated into the façades of the Queen's College Cork, the Public Record Office and the Guildhall in the City of London, and the Royal Infirmary in Glasgow, respectively.9 On the surface, there is relatively little to distinguish these statues of Victoria from each other, or from any of the free-standing statues of her that were erected across the globe. Yet the integration of these statues into the façades of an archive, a civic hall, a hospital and a university exemplifies the degree to which statues of Victoria could be at once identical and unique; embedded in a particular locale and part of a global phenomenon. …

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