The Haig Statue

Earl Haig Memorial Whitehall, London Alfred Hardiman, 1936 photo by R. Sones from Wikimedia Commons by Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license

Earl Haig Memorial
Whitehall, London
Alfred Hardiman, 1936
photo by R. Sones from Wikimedia Commons by Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license

At a dinner party at the Walpole-Wilson’s, Widmerpool offers a new subject of conversation: “There does not seem any substantial agreement yet on the subject of the Haig statue….Did you read St. John Clarke’s letter? [BM 45/39]”  For Widmerpool, who had little interest in art, to introduce the topic shows how widespread interest was in the statue, and in the ensuing dinner conversation, the diverse opinions are more about the goals than about the aesthetics of the monument. “‘The question, to my mind,’ said Widmerpool, ‘is whether a statue is, in reality, an appropriate form of recognition for public service in modern times.'”

Field Marshal Earl Haig, Commander-in-Chief of the British Armies in France 1915-1918,  died in January, 1928 and within a month Parliament authorized a memorial statue. Alfred Hardiman won the commission for the memorial in competition with Gilbert Ledward and William Macmillan, but controversy surrounded the project from the start, especially when Hardiman’s model, displayed in 1929, showed Haig astride a classical equine statue in the Roman tradition, rather than a more realistic model of his own horse. Hardiman made a second, somewhat more realistic model, but never succeeded in quieting all his critics.

In the conversation at the dinner party, Lady Anne Stepney says that the commission should have gone to Mestrovic. She was not alone in this opinion.  The Croatian sculptor, Ivan Mestrovic (1883-1962), a disciple of Rodin,  had combined an equestrian monument and national shrine in his model for the Temple of Kosovo  It was first shown at the Serbian Pavilion at the International Exhibition in Rome in 1911 In 1915 the model was displayed at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and young British sculptors began to emulate Mestrovic. The Temple of Kosovo was never completed. The Spearman shows how he might have sculpted Haig’s steed.

This dinner table discussion creates some ambiguity for dating the action in BM. Many of the events in this volume suggest that it takes place in 1928, but a conversation like this about the Haig statue would have been much more likely to occur after Hardiman showed the model in 1929.

The monument was finally unveiled in 1937; the unveiling can still be seen on archived newsreels. This did not end all the controversies, but they are still not primarily artistic. Even now, some have vilified Haig’s leadership, accusing him of sacrificing his men and urging removal of his memorial.

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