Why did a King’s Cross statue have to lose its duck?

Sculptor Hazel Reeves works on the statue of Sir Nigel Gresley. Picture by Roger Bamber.

Sculptor Hazel Reeves works on the statue of Sir Nigel Gresley. Picture by Roger Bamber. - Credit: Archant

The art critic Eric Newton believed that a key difference between painting and sculpture was that the former loses nothing by being transported from one interior to another, whereas the latter lives unhappily in museums where it becomes aloof and forbidding.

The statue of Sir Nigel Gresley, before the duck was removed. Picture: Andy Fallon

The statue of Sir Nigel Gresley, before the duck was removed. Picture: Andy Fallon - Credit: Archant

In Masterpieces of European Sculpture, a photographic compilation published in 1959, he wrote that sculpture cannot be detached from its setting, physically or by the camera, without suffering. Only the lucky and leisured would be able to properly experience the important works featured in the book which are sited in remote locations. Newton, who had a London home at 3 Cumberland Gardens, King’s Cross, would have been well-placed for the sculptures and exhibition this week. The most traditional yet the most controversial, Hazel Reeves’s statue of steam locomotive designer Sir Nigel Gresley, is in King’s Cross station. The most dramatic, Conrad Shawcross’s towering structure Paradigm, is outside the Francis Crick Institute beside St Pancras station. And Jeff Lowe’s inventive pieces are currently at Pangolin London, one of the city’s few galleries dedicated to sculpture, at Kings Place in York Way.

Duck or no duck? That is the issue that has haunted the Gresley Society’s commission of a statue of steam locomotive engineer Sir Nigel Gresley for the new Western concourse of King’s Cross station. His Pacific engine went into Flying Scotsman, the first steam locomotive to travel at over 100mph in passenger service.

It also went into the streamlined Mallard, which has held the world speed record for a steam train since reaching 126mph in 1938.

It took its name from the waterfowl that Gresley bred at his moated home near St Albans.

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Hazel Reeves’s original maquette for the statue included a jaunty mallard. It was meant, she says, “to rouse the curiosity of those unfamiliar with the man, getting them to come closer, to read the wall plaque and scan the QR code to find out more about this incredible engineer”.

Having a duck by Gresley’s feet appealed to the public and planning permission was granted in 2014 for this version to be cast over-life size in bronze to stand outside his former office.

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“Caught off-guard in a moment of reflection, Sir Nigel appears relaxed and relatively informal, with his hand in his jacket pocket and a copy of his trade journal, The Locomotive, in his other hand,” says Reeves.

The statue of Sir Nigel was unveiled on Tuesday – but there’s no mallard. Two of Gresley’s grandsons said they thought its inclusion demeaning, so the society’s trustees agreed to omit it and Camden Council acceded.

Then a passionate pro-duck lobby formed, objecting to Reeves’s proposal being modified after successful public consultation. Thousands signed an online petition to restore the mallard but in vain.

Now it’s feared the more extreme avian aficionados will superglue rubber ducks to the statue. Watch that space!

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