The English were not very good at commemorating their great men during the first three-quarters of the 19th century. The competition to select designs for the Nelson memorial was not held until 1838, and another three decades elapsed before the Trafalgar ensemble was completed with the addition of Landseer's lions. The first major Wellington statue was placed, King Kong-like, atop Decimus Burton's arch on Constitution Hill in 1846, but was so derided that it was removed in 1883 and consigned to the rustic obscurity of Aldershot's military scrubland. A second official monument to the Iron Duke had been in the making since 1856, and this protracted process continued, seemingly interminably, until the memorial's completion in St Paul's in 1912. In both cases, public subscriptions were slow and insufficient; committees of management were ignorant, philistine and indecisive; competitions were rigged in advance or their results were set aside; architects were petulant, lethargic and unreliable; sculptors were jealous, petty, incompetent and indolent; and contractors were devious, dishonest or went bankrupt. 'Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image,' runs the Second Commandment: and for much of the 19th century the chaotic circumstances of monument-making in London lent strong (if unintended) support to this divine injunction.
LRB 18 March 1982 | PDF Download