Sunday, 5 December 2010

Or is it a double sculpture? Was Mrs Lincoln famously invisible?

I passed an interesting statue in Parliament Square this week. 

As you see, it's a statue of Abraham Lincoln, and a chair that he's not sitting in. I wonder what happened here. Perhaps the sculptor was famous for his lightning speed, and by bad luck happened to begin work on what was intended to be a seated sculpture at the very moment Abe got up to answer the door. Or perhaps the chair is also famous. Perhaps in the world of chairs and chair-fanciers, this is known as the Parliament Square statue of an eagle-back scroll-legged cabriole chair (partially obscured by bearded man). Or perhaps it's intended as a symbol of what a virile, dynamic president Lincoln was - 'This here's a chair, but you won't find Honest Abe lounging about in one o' they! No Sir! He'll be up and about, pulling at his lapel, and slightly flexing one knee! That's just the kind of man he was.' Perhaps this inspired a whole movement in presidential sculpture of which I'm unaware- Eisenhower with a bed he's not asleep in. McKinley in front of a big pile of cakes, not one of which he's scoffed. Hoover and a pretty frock he's totally not wearing. Clinton turning his back on a disappointed Monica Lewinsky. I hope so.


Unknown said...

it actually looks like hes about to throw himself off the stone base :( dont do it Abe, by the way, hope the play went well and your beard looked fantastic but i think a photo needs to follow of this beard for proof of it :). Toodle pip, Ellie xox

Mags said...

I think it's more of a statement of Honest Abe's approachability. It is as if we have entered his room unexpectedly and yet he is ready to get out of his chair and greet us. Thus we have a candid snapshot of him as we walk down the road. None of this Lincoln Memorial sternness, here.

Piques said...

An empty chair is often symbolic of a life missing. Lincoln's life was obviously cut short and one wonders what his influence over the politics of his day would have been. The decades following the civil war were a red hot cauldron of change in the States. Had the cool political head of Lincoln ruled over pot a bit longer the world as we know it today could have been very different. The US could have become a far more unified nation. Perhaps the US could have risen to a be a world power before WWII instead of after it.

Also it seems to me that this particular chair is close in appearance to a Roman throne. The States are often compared with Ancient Rome. Given that Lincoln brought in abolitionism and was the president who ushered in modern American culture and politics it could be seen that as he turns his back on the Romanesque throne, he turns the county from that path.

Lastly, another option could be that Lincoln was shot in a chair. It could be symbolic of his assassination. Is there by any chance another statue of Kennedy walking away from a Lincoln Continental?

Ankita Sarkar said...

Funny as usual. And yeah, hope so, too.

Daedalus said...

The explanation is simple: this is Lincoln the Orator. He stood out among the Presidents of the time, who were basically glorified administrators. He was famous as a debater, especially in the Lincoln-Douglas debates, and his Gettysburg Address is one of the all-time classic speeches. It was his ability to move people that made the Southern States fear him, and ultimately rebel when he was elected.

Naturally, to orate, you have to get up out of your chair.

When did this statue go up? The US Civil War was mostly irrelevant to the Victorians, except for its effect on the cotton trade. Gladstone is supposed to have supported the rebels. I imagine it's a post-WW2 job roughly contemporary with Winnie's, meant to show the US role in "our" victory. Rather than put up a statue to Roosevelt or Truman, perhaps they chose Lincoln as an uncontroversial subject.

John Finnemore said...

Ellie - I think when you say 'I hope the play when well, and your beard looked fantastic' you are talking to me. If you're still talking to Abe, it's a little tactless of you...

Others: Approachability; Shortness of life; Disdain for Ancient Rome, Skill at Oratory- all very plausible, I'm impressed. (I still think it looks a bit silly, though)

Daedalus -I have found out a little about when and why the statue was erected. In fact, probably just about enough to justify another post, so I'll put it there.

Róisín said...

Maybe his chair was always pulled out from under him at school and he is therefore scared to attempt to sit but it has been kept as a testament to the emotional struggles he faced at a tender age which spurred him on to fight for liberation from torment

Unknown said...

John yes sorry my phone is bad for punctuation. I hope your play went well and your beard was good...not Abe's that would be wrong of me.x

Shelly said...

Maybe the chair is meant for the viewer? Ya know, "I'm in awe of this statue of Lincoln and wait, what is that??? A CHAIR?? Someone hold my stuff, I'm climbing on!!!"

Anonymous said...

US-born fan here.

I had never made this connection before, but I see you have conflated famously women's-dresses-philic FBI director J. Edgar Hoover with 1929-1932 president Herbert Hoover. As far as I know, Herbert had no interest in wearing even kicky awesome A-line skirts, if you can believe that.

Fun fact: I went to high school with a girl who was something like the great-grandniece of President Hoover. She was also the person with whom I had this conversation one morning when she saw me carrying Norton Juster's classic children's book The Phantom Tollbooth:

Her: Isn't that a kid's book? Didn't you read it already?

Me: Yes, I'm reading it again.

Her: Why would you read a book twice?

Please also allow me to offer a collection of US presidential campaign songs so you can fix in your mind tunes and jingles for even the deservedly obscure presidents. Herbert Hoover had the catchy "If He's Good Enough For Lindy."

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I have just spent 8 or 9 minutes doubled over in paroxysms of laughter at the mental image of some chair fanciers furious that this fine example of the carpenters skill is spoilt by that bearded man. I shall now attempt to reheat my dinner.

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