Trafalger Square Lions

Posted: July 7, 2013 in History, London, Post medieval history, UK
Tags: , , ,

it would be hard nowadays to consider Nelson’s column without the four flanking Lions. yet at the time they were the subject of much debate and controversy. Nelson’s column had been erected between 1839 and 1843 and the original contract for the lions had gone to a sculptor called Lough. However, it transpired that there was insufficient money for the work and the idea was dropped. It was not until 1858 that the government put forward the money to complete the work and the contract was awarded to Edward Landseer, a renowned painter of animal subjects. However it was still not plain sailing. Landseer’s health problems and further financial difficulties caused further delays to the production of the statues. The missing Lions became something of a cause celèbre with newspapers calling it a ‘national disgrace’ and ‘a scandal’. It was not until 1867 that the statues were finally unvieled and although many people who had been critics now praised the statues there was still dissenting voices primarily on the basis that the statues were not in a natural pose.

Writing in 1886, W. J. Nettleship, a distinguished painter of lions, was still criticising Landseer’s lions:

“The Trafalgar Square lions must be quietly damned, because, pretending to be done from nature, they absolutely miss the true sculptural quality which distinguishes the leonine pose, and because a lion couched like that has not a concave back like a greyhound, but a convex back, greatly ennobled in line from the line of a cat’s back in the same position.”


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