A large open space on the natural route from the main railway station through into the city centre, Piccadilly Gardens has become a centre of the tram system, which has had the unfortunate side effect of making the statues there look less well placed than they previously seemed, and one group, the most interesting Adrift by John Cassidy, seems to have vanished entirely.
Still here though are monuments to four great 19th century figures:
Matthew Noble's Wellington.
The Wellington Monument, by Matthew Noble, is the most substantial, with the subject figure, four larger than lifesize allegorical figures, and four panels, all bronze. The monument consists of a short stone pillar on which stands Wellington himself, raised up on a broad dais with the four seated allegoricals, and on its sides the four panels, all raised up on low steps. Wellington, with his hooked nose, stands in a relaxed pose, arm leaning on a pillar draped in a cloak. He holds in his other hand, I think, his soft tricorn hat. The figures below, three female and one male, are classical, baroque. As we look from the front, to our left is a muscular, bearded warrior clad only in a cloak, with a round shield and a scabbarded sword, and helmet, symbolising War of course. To the front right, Athena in her helmet, beautifully draped, one arm raised, presumably as a symbol of wise counsel. At the rear, to the left a figure of Peace with olive sprig, gazing upwards rather religiously, with a five-pointed star on her brow. And to the rear right, a Victory, holding a wreath, and wearing another, of olive. The four panels, in low, worn relief, show scenes from Wellington’s career, including two battle pieces –Waterloo and some victory in India; and two with him in civic society, one of which is a House of Commons scene. The monument as a whole is designed to be walked round, to give a range of views and aspects to the figures.
The fact that Mathew Noble won the competition was controversial – he was at the time not of the first rank in terms of commissions, and there was suspicion that he was awarded the Wellington commission as the local man, from Lancaster. However, the clear excellence of the finished product confirmed the wisdom of the choice of the judges, and made Noble’s reputation. Also in Manchester, we may see his Albert, and busts in the Town Hall collection, and in Salford, another Victoria and Albert.
Onslow Ford's Queen Victoria.
The Queen Victoria Monument, by Edward Onslow Ford, is one of his most substantial monuments, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1901. A massive seated figure of the monarch, raised up on a pedestal, behind and above her a Baroque portico with niche filled with blue mosaic to frame the Queen’s head, a broken pediment with a little bronze St George atop, and behind, an allegorical figure of Motherhood. The Queen, in her heavy bronze robe, is equalled in impression of bulk only by the one by Alfred Gilbert in Winchester. An older queen, with no attempt to conceal the sagging muscles and plumpness of the face, but conveying the presence and dignity which is so absent in so many modern statues of great leaders. The Maternity figure at the rear is utterly charming, a youthful semidraped figure with cloak over her head, holding and sheltering within her cowl two sleeping infants. Onslow Ford, like so many of his contemporaries, happily specialised in the female form, and this figure is typical of his style. We should not neglect to admire the little St George on top of the monument, though binoculars are necessary. St George wears excellently art nouveau scaly male, riding a rearing horse, standing on a writhing, snake-necked dragon of comparatively prodigious size.
Peel, by William Calder Marshall.
Close by is the third major monument, that to Peel – tall steps with a comparatively short square pillar supporting the statesman, with two allegorical figures seated on the highest step. William Calder Marshall was the sculptor, and the date is 1853, thus the earliest monument in the area. The Peel is lively in pose and expression, one hand on his hip, the other holding a manuscript, and wearing contemporary costume and a Senator-like cloak to increase his dignified appearance. The allegorical girls are well equipped with accoutrements – the one with a tablet, wreath, painter’s palette, sculptor’s mallet and scroll, gearwheel and retort; the other a crowned Britannia with shield, cotton shuttle, bale of cotton and sheaf of corn. Excellent calm faces, muscular yet feminine limbs, deceptively simple drapes, and overall of extreme satisfaction. Calder Marshall has several major sculptural works with several figures, and this is typical both of his competent, confident male portraiture, and his neo-Grecian girls.
William Theed's statue of James Watt.
And finally the James Watt, a single figure with no accompanying girls, but of enough solidity to rank as a substantial work, and again a work of the first rank. The sculptor was William Theed the Younger, and the date 1857. The subject is show seated, working with a calliper on a sheaf of papers, the face earnest and intelligent, and the whole figure enveloped in a heavy cloak allowing the interplay of light and shade. Theed was an excellent male portraitist, and this is a good example of his work.
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