Arctic Explorer Captain Scott’s London statue

3 min read  ·  14 Feb 2024

HENI Talks presents ‘Arctic Explorer Captain Scott’s London statue’, the second film of the Public Art series.

In the second episode of HENI Talks' series on Public Art, ‘Arctic Explorer Captain Scott’s London statue’, join media historian Professor Ian Christie in discovering one of London’s most unique public statues, dedicated to Captain Robert Falcon Scott (1868–1912). The Captain Scott statue stands out from the other public artworks in St James, owing to the unique story behind its subject and creation.

Officially a Captain in the Royal Navy, Scott was an explorer at heart, a quality captured here in the rugged clothing in which he is depicted. Scott led two expeditions to Antarctica for Great Britain, most famously his second journey from 1910 to 1912 during a time when major global powers were racing to reach the South Pole for the first time. Scott and his team of four other explorers bravely trekked through the Antarctic, successfully reaching the South Pole in 1912 only to find that they had been beaten by a Norwegian team just five weeks earlier. Tragically, Scott and all four of his companions died on their way back to base camp a few months later.

The Captain Scott statue was erected in 1915, building on a tradition of public monuments across London that commemorate some of Britain’s best-known heroic figures. However, as Professor Christie demonstrates, this monument breaks the mould of those erected for generals and kings. Rather than the timeless grandeur of so many public monuments, the Captain Scott statue depicts Scott mid-expedition, bundled in his polar gear with only his face visible bearing a determined but hopeful gaze, and a ski pole grasped in his right hand. No doubt this is in part due to the distinct circumstances under which the monument was commissioned. However, a statue depicting another polar explorer, Sir John Franklin, stands just across Waterloo Place, executed in a much more traditional style. Direct comparison of these two memorials highlights just how special the Captain Scott statue truly is.

The individuality of the Captain Scott sculpture comes not just from its subject matter, then, but from its artist, none other than the explorer’s widow, Kathleen Scott. Kathleen was a talented sculptor trained in London and Paris who was known for her portrait sculptures. The influence of her mentor, famed sculptor Auguste Rodin, may have contributed to the distinct pose in which Katheen depicted her late husband, as Rodin was known for using more naturalistic and emotional poses than his predecessors.

The intimate relationship between sculptor and subject in this case lends the Captain Scott statue a naturalism and a sense of presence that distinguishes it from the hundreds of memorial statues throughout London. Here we see a depiction of a modern hero and a real individual, rather than an immortal, idealised vision of heroism. Kathleen Scott would go on to create more works of public sculpture that can be found throughout the UK and the world, including a twin of this memorial carved from white Italian marble that stands in Christchurch, New Zealand. However, perhaps none were so successful, or so emotional, as this original Captain Scott statue, her first and largest public work.

The Public Art series shines a light on the diverse range of outdoor public sculptures across the UK. Join us as we uncover the fascinating stories of these works, guided by a group of experts who will provide insightful commentary and analysis. This series promises to offer a new perspective on the familiar, as well as uncovering hidden gems in public art.

HENI Talks

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