Elsie Inglis statue campaign revived after charity vows to keep royal sculptor in place
A troubled campaign to honour a trailblazing medical pioneer with the first female statue on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile has vowed to keep a male royal sculptor in place for the job – despite issuing an apology over his appointment.
Fundraising efforts for the tribute to Elsie Inglis have been revived after the campaign was “paused” in the wake of a backlash over the scrapping of an open contest shortly before Professor Alexander Stoddart was announced as the artist for the long-awaited project.
Trustees have previously suggesting Stoddart was brought on board after a rethink about the design of the statue prompted by the sight of the Queen’s coffin being transported up the Royal Mile before lying in state in St Giles’ Cathedral.
They have now admitted Stoddart was originally approached to try to ensure the competition “reached as many people as possible.”
The contest was halted in late September, three days after the Queen’s funeral, with Stoddart announced as the statue sculptor on October 17.
In the official announcement of his appointment, Stoddart said he was “most concerned that something distinguished arises to honour this estimable person and to preserve the seriousness of the High Street as a place of immense historical import”.
The decision to award Stoddart the commission provoked a furious backlash from some supporters of the statue campaign and female artists who had been working on submissions for what is expected to become the first sculpture of a woman on the Royal Mile.
However, the Statue For Elsie Inglis campaign suggested some critics were more keen to “promote women’s rights” than honour the work of Elsie Inglis and condemned the “level of vitriol” directed at its trustees.
The charity announced on October 20 that its campaign had been paused to give the trustees time to consider options. However, a new statement from the charity said there was “unanimous” agreement among the trustees “that the artist now appointed is the right choice”.
The statement said: “While we’ve always sought to act in the best interests of the charity to achieve the long-term recognition and renown of this incredible woman and her work, we accept we could have communicated more clearly in recent weeks, and we apologise for this.
"The board set up the competition to identify a suitable artist for the important job of designing a long-overdue statue. The brief did not specify it was to be a female artist and was also clear that we reserved the right not to appoint any of the entries.
"The brief was published at the end of July and we sought the support of Alexander Stoddart, an artist of international renown, in making sure the opportunity reached as many people as possible. It became clear that Professor Stoddart would be interested in undertaking the commission personally, much to our surprise and delight.
"Given his proven record of producing inspiring monuments, it was clear to the trustees that this was the way to provide the appropriate legacy for Dr Elsie Inglis, the key objective of the campaign. In light of this, we felt it only right to suspend the call to avoid artists spending any further time on submissions.
"On reflection, we can see that the decision and approach should have been explained more fully and transparently, and we regret this.”