Monday, 13 October 2014

Royal Geographical Society, Lowther Lodge, Kensington Gore SW7

The figures of two great explorers enliven the blank wall of the Royal Geographic Society's lecture hall, Ernest Shackleton and David Livingstone. Sir Ernest Shackleton's reputation today is based on a very British failure. The aim of his 1914 polar expedition was to cross Antarctica, but his ship Endeavour was crushed in the pack ice and it was his leadership in extracting his crew without losing a man that has made him a cult figure. He is portrayed in full cold-weather gear in the 1932 statue by Charles Sargeant Jagger, It is a very characteristic Jagger piece - very statuesque, full-frontal. The only movement is subtly suggested by one foot being slightly in front of the other, and he holds one hand behind his back. There is an interesting photo of his assistants working on the full-size work for the foundry from the maquette.
Dr David Livingstone's search for the source of the Nile and his meeting with Stanley earned him mythic status in his lifetime and throughout the imperial period, but today he is regarded more cautiously. He was as much a missionary as a scientist, and he opened the interior of Africa to colonial rule. But he is ultimately redeemed by the fact that he really loved both the place and its people. Livingstone's statue was created in 1953 by T.B. Huxley-Jones. It is a much livelier pose, as you might expect from the creator of all those fountains with writhing figures. The good doctor leans on his cane, cradling his Bible in his other hand, his coat over his arm.

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