The Sculpture ‘Marmite’ Question:

What do you love?

Equestrian statue of Duke of Wellingon by John Steell
Sir John Steell, The Duke of Wellington, 1852, bronze, Princes Street, Edinburgh (photo: © Ad Meskens, Wikimedia Commons)

What do you hate?

Robert Clive by John Tweed
John Tweed, Robert Clive, 1st Baron Clive, unveiled 1912, bronze, King Charles Street, Whitehall, London (photo: © Prioryman, Creative Commons)

David Mach RA replies:

I have driven past the monument to Clive of India for years, but take great pleasure in telling visitors from abroad that it is of ‘Olive’! – as that is what the lettering of ‘Clive’ looks like when the sun hits it – cancelling it out in a way! That’s good, as that sort of statue is always pretty dodgy because of the politics of what a monument like that can represent – people who do horrible stuff which we then praise to the sky! I like this idea of mistaken identity, and people now wondering what ‘Olive’ did that was so special – no doubt inventing the oil! That’s my take on it, an attack on a certain type of monument – but with humour!

When I was at primary school in Fife, we would have occasional outings to historic places and parks, and sometimes a longer trip to Edinburgh. It was on such a trip, when I was only a wee boy, that I had a significant experience with public sculpture, which has stuck with me all these years. It was about discovering sculpture of a genre I still like and think about and bring up in lectures.

Me and another kid, ‘Goose’ Gourlay, broke away from the rest of our party, which I’m sure we weren’t supposed to do. We had tea and scones in a little cafe and ended up on Princes Street where at the east end ‘Goose’ informed me there was a fabulous sculpture which I just had to see. He was a very big kid and definitely the leader. I was impressed that he knew the word sculpture, never mind what that actually meant. I dutifully followed him and we stood under a massive equestrian statue. It was a black bronze horse rearing dramatically on its hind legs with the Duke of Wellington leaning back, sword in hand – all action. ‘You have to see the modelling in this sculpture’ ‘Goose’ told me, pointing at the underside of the horse. ‘Look at that!’ he declared ‘You can see the veins in that horse’s cock!‘h1. Your title here…

A precocious bugger, our ‘Goose’, I think he won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music and became first tuba for the BBC Symphony Orchestra or something like that. I’ll never forget him or his introducing me to public art, to equestrian statuary and to the standard of modelling in that horse.