One of the many contentious arguments the Gresley Society has used in defence of its decision to remove the mallard from the statue of Sir Nigel concerns the duck’s role as an ‘attribute’ – defined in artistic terms as ‘some distinguishing addition to the principle figure.’
… artistic opinion is by no means unanimous that a modern statue needs something ‘extra’ in order to attract attention.
And whilst they may well be right that not everyone agrees an attribute is necessary (is ‘artistic opinion’ ever unanimous about anything?), the award-winning sculptor they commissioned for the statue thought it was.
As do the commissioners and designers of many other modern statues. Relevant examples include:
- John Betjeman (St Pancras Station, 2007. Attribute: shopping bag)
- Matthew Flinders (Euston Station, 2014. Attribute: dividers and his cat)
- Terence Cuneo (ex Waterloo Station, 2004. Attribute: easel (and mouse))
- Isambard Kingdom Brunel (Paddington Station, 1982. Attribute: top hat)
- James Henry Greathead (outside Bank Station, 1994. Attribute: plans)
- George Stephenson (Chesterfield Station, 2011. Attribute: dividers, wheel, model Rocket)
A few commentators have suggested other attributes for Gresley’s statue might work better than the mallard, for example a scale model locomotive (see Stephenson’s statue). But a mallard duck, in its apparent incongruity, is instantly recognisable across the concourse, and makes the link between Gresley and the thing that made him world famous – steam speed record holder Mallard.
Iconic and unforgettable. Which is why the sculptor chose it. Add to this Gresley’s well-known affection for waterfowl, and the mallard attribute works on all levels.
Only the star-struck Gresley Society hierarchy seem to think Sir Nigel is already so recognisable that he just needs to stand there looking benignly across King’s Cross station, and everyone seeing the statue – now and for the next 100 years or so – will know, or want to know, who it commemorates. Without the mallard, they will not.