Thursday 22 May 2008

More William Theed the Younger

As a pendant to the entry on Peek House with its odd sculpture of a camel train, here's a picture of another camel by William Theed the Younger, part of his 'Africa' group on the Albert Memorial.
Most people assume that the statues of the world's races mourning 'our blameless prince' celebrate the Empire (a woman made exactly that remark while I was there) but they don't - they include a Chinaman, an Afghani in his tall lambswool hat, an Arab trader, Red Indians (as they were known in the 1860s), a Bedouin and lots of others.
In any event, when Theed carved the Africa group (to a general design by the memorial's architect Sir George Gilbert Scott), the British had very few colonies there, only Cape Colony and a strip along the coast in West Africa, and they were really just coaling stations for ships heading for India.
So the sculpture is an idealised Victorian vision of Africa, and very odd it is. The central figure is an Egyptian queen on the back of a camel, with her hand resting rather too familiarly on the shoulder of a half-naked male attendant. On her other side, that Arab merchant is writing a bill, seated on a bale of cotton and sundry exotic merchandise including a sword.
Behind her is an extraordinary couple, a black man with an animal skin over his shoulders and a little modesty cloth hanging from his waist, and a European woman reading from a scroll. It seems to represent The Benefits of European Culture Being Brought to the Benighted But Grateful Negro. How patronising.

No comments: