Suffolk artist Maggi Hambling defends ‘everywoman’ Mary Wollstonecraft statue
- Credit: PA
Suffolk artist Maggi Hambling has defended her nude ‘everywoman’ statue, celebrating Mary Wollstonecraft, which was unveiled this week in London’s Newington Green, close to where the writer and philosopher lived and worked.
The public artwork, cast in silvered bronze, was commissioned after a decade of campaigning and fundraising. But, no sooner was the sculpture revealed, then some of the high profile supporters of the fundraising campaign started expressing their disappointment over the finished work.
Some thought that they would be getting a statue of Mary Wollstonecraft while others, like columnist Caitlin Moran, questioned why the anonymous woman needed to be nude.
Channel 4 journalist Georgina Lee was also unimpressed with the statue, tweeting: “Because nothing says ‘honouring the mother of feminism’ like a sexy naked lady.”
Maggi, who was born in Hadleigh and initially trained at Ipswich Art School under Colin Moss and at the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing, at Benton End, with Lett Haines and Cedric Morris, is no stranger to controversy.
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The artist, who now has a studio outside Saxmundham, has ridden out waves of public disapproval for her Scallop sculpture on Aldeburgh beach celebrating the life and career of Benjamin Britten and for her statue of Oscar Wilde rising from his coffin placed between St Martin in the Fields church and Charing Cross station. Both works are now considered to be celebrated public works of art.
Maggi, who is best known for her dramatic sea paintings, capturing the wild nature of the North Sea off Aldeburgh, says that her critics had misunderstood the intention of the work.
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“My sculpture, I hope, celebrates the spirit of Mary Wollstonecraft. It certainly isn’t a historical likeness,” she said. “Clothes define people. As she’s Everywoman, I’m not defining her in any particular clothes.
“It’s not a conventional heroic or heroinic likeness of Mary Wollstonecraft. It’s a sculpture about now, in her spirit.”
She said those who have criticised it “are not reading the word, the important word, which is on the plinth quite clearly: ‘for’ Mary Wollstonecraft. It’s not ‘of’ Mary Wollstonecraft.”
“The female figure at the top is open and challenging the world. “It’s the ongoing battle - a woman ready to challenge the world. Mary Wollstonecraft was clearly full of fire 200 years ago and before feminism. So, the whole sculpture is about that. It’s like a rocket of hope going up into the sky, with all that’s still got to be done.”
Happily, the organisers of the appeal are pleased with Hambling’s finished sculpture. Bee Rowlatt, author, journalist and chair of the Mary on the Green campaign, praised the statue, saying it was worthy of a feminist who deserved “a pioneering work of art”.
In a statement she said: “There’s no question that Maggi Hambling is a challenge artist and this work is certainly not your average statue.”
“The figure is representative of the birth of a movement. She was the foremother of feminism.
“This work is an attempt to celebrate her contribution to society with something that goes beyond the Victoria traditions of putting people on pedestals.”
Mary Wollstonecraft remains best known for 1792’s A Vindication Of The Rights Of Woman, in which she argued women are not naturally inferior to men, but appear to be only because they lack education.
Before her death at the age of 38, she wrote a series of texts that would lay the foundation for modern feminist thought.
She died shortly after the birth of her daughter, the author Mary Shelley, who wrote Frankenstein.