An aesthetic defence of the Edward Colston statue and its sculptor

It is perhaps a little ironic that a professor of public history at the University of Manchester should dismiss, and in the Guardian moreover, the sculptor John Cassidy’s now notorious statue of Edward Colston as a “mediocre piece of late-Victorian public art” (‘A potent historical artefact’: the statue of Edward Colston’s new role, 4 giugno).

Cassidy (1860-1939) was a Mancunian sculptor, whose Victoria jubilee fountain adorns Albert Square and whose masterpiece, the allegorical group Adrift, is a prominent feature of St Peter’s Square. It represents, he wrote, “the dependence of human beings upon one another, the response of human sympathy to human needs”.

Cassidy was associated with the New Sculpture movement in the 1880s and 1890s, which reflected particularly the influence of Rodin. In its imagery, Adrift also looks back to Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa. Colston’s intriguing pose seems a conscious echo of Rodin’s Thinker, and the sculpture’s lively modelling is Rodinesque. From a purely aesthetic point of view, it is somewhat more than “mediocre”, I would say.

Cassidy was an Irish Catholic with revolutionary sympathies (he was involved in a memorial to Wolfe Tone in 1898) who moved to Manchester at the age of about 20 and remained there all his life. It seems unlikely that the Bristol admirers of Colston who commissioned the statue bothered to inform him of Colston’s violent anti-Catholicism and rabid Toryism, let alone the slave trading.
Simon Casimir Wilson

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