The Ugliest Statue in London?

Well, according to George Bernard Shaw, the famous “Wedding Cake” statue, part of the memorial to Queen Victoria, would be a contender.


View of the Victoria Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace
View of the Victoria Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace

But then according to Shaw almost any statue of Queen Victoria could claim the title “The Ugliest Statue in London”.


In 1928 Frank Rutter, Art Critic for The Sunday Times, wrote a feature Public Monuments in London – Good & Bad, he quotes Shaw:


SOME years ago when an art periodical incited its readers to state which in their opinion was the ugliest statue in London, Mr. Bernard Shaw seized the opportunity to ask “what crime Queen Victoria committed that she should be so horribly guyed as she has been through the length and breadth of her dominions?"
“It was part of her personal quality,” Mr. Shaw continued, “that she was a tiny woman; and our national passion for telling lies on every public subject has led to her being represented as an overgrown monster. The sculptors seem to have assumed that she inspired everything that was ugliest in the feminine fiction of her reign. Take Mrs. Caudle, Mrs. Gamp, Mrs. Prig, Mrs.Proudie, and make a composite statue of them; and you will have a typical memorial of Queen Victoria."
Mrs. Caudle, Mrs. Gamp, Mrs. Prig, Mrs.Proudie
Mrs. Caudle, Mrs. Gamp, Mrs. Prig, Mrs.Proudie

Now if this were a bold republican realism which disdained courtly sycophancy, it would be at least courageous, if unkind. But it is pure plastic calumny. Queen Victoria was a little woman with great decision of manner and a beautiful speaking voice which she used in public extremely well. She carried herself very well. All young people now believe that she was a huge heap of a woman. . . . How could they think anything else with a statue at every corner shrieking these libels at them? … I blush for British sculpture, and long for a trip in a bombing aeroplane to remove Victoria’s lying reproaches from the face of her land.”

I think Shaw just might have approved of this modern, 2007, statue of the young Queen Victoria by artist Catherine Laugel.


Young Queen Victoria by Catherine Laugel
Young Queen Victoria by Catherine Laugel

Rutter had his own nomination for a different title “The Ugliest Monument in London”.

Mr. Bernard Shaw is very severe, but his severity is justified, for from the statue in front of the Royal Exchange to the “wedding-cake “ - as it has been called - outside Buckingham Palace there is no rendering in sculpture of Queen Victoria which can hope to escape censure. Lamentable, however, as have been the failures to produce a worthy memorial of the Queen, none of them so grossly offends a fastidious taste as does the monument to her Prince Consort.

Albert Memorial
Albert Memorial

Notwithstanding the embarrassing abundance offered to our choice, when it comes to asking what is the ugliest monument in London, the reply; expected and generally obtained is—” The Albert Memorial.” Designed by Sir G. G. Scott, this Gothic canopy terminating in a Gothic spire offends us by its incongruity and hyper-elaborate decoration. Nothing could be less Gothic in style than Foley’s colossal but very commonplace bronze-gilt figure of Prince Albert seated beneath the canopy; equally opposed to the principles of Gothic sculpture are the allegorical marble groups and figures which surround the monument. Given a Renaissance setting these examples of waxwork sculpture might have been rendered just tolerable, but the Gothic shrine only emphasises their triviality, while the profusion of gilding, coloured stones and mosaics adds an appearance of blatant vulgarity to a monument incongruously conceived.
It is pitiful to think that this architectural jumble was erected by the British nation at a cost of 120,000, half of which was defrayed by voluntary contributions. Contrasted with the glaring discordance of the Albert Memorial, the Cobden statue which is the joke of Camden Town is comparatively harmless and inoffensive.

Well tastes change over time. Personally I love Albert Memorial in all its florid glory.


For what it is worth my own nomination for the title “London’s Ugliest Statue”, or at least ugliest statuette, would probably be for Eamonn Hughes’ 1998 post-modern creation in Maiden Lane, near Covent Garden. At least it is so little known and well hidden that it seldom causes offence.


Eamonn Hughes sculpture, Maiden Lane
Eamonn Hughes sculpture, Maiden Lane

Hughes seems to be referencing the street name, Maiden Lane, with supposed connotations of flower girls and prostitution. In fact the derivation of Maiden Lane probably owes much more to the old English word “Midden” a – dung heap or cess pit.


Detail, Eamonn Hughes sculpture, Maiden Lane
Detail, Eamonn Hughes sculpture, Maiden Lane

It has been noted, perhaps unkindly, that the artist has managed to faithfully reference both possible derivations in a single work.


Anyway, shortly after completing this work Hughes left sculpture behind and became a celebrity hairdresser.