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The Good, The Standard, The Ugly: Chopin Statue

Jonathan Schofield loves the motive but doubts the execution

Published on September 20th 2011.

The Good, The Standard, The Ugly: Chopin Statue

Category: Standard

What and when: Chopin Memorial Monument, unveiled on Friday 16 September.

Who: The artist is Robert Sobocinski, the man at the piano is Fryderyk Chopin.

Chopin 047            The artist is on the left here

The statue looks a bit...er...elaborate

It is. To quote: 'Chopin at the piano gazing across at his muse Baroness Aurore Lucile Dupon. Carved into the work is an eagle in flight, the symbol of Poland for over a thousand years and a battle scene representing the Polish fight for freedom.'

Muse, do you mean....

Yep, lover. Shagger Chopin had lots of lovers....or muses. Muse is so much more refined, don't you think?

But why is the work here, in Manchester, on Deansgate?

It celebrates Chopin's visit to Manchester in 1848, the 200th anniversary of his birth (albeit a year late) and most importantly the role of the Polish community in Manchester and their contribution to civic life. It's a symbol of the friendship between Poland and the UK as well. 

Who paid for it?

The public did, privately so to speak. Lots of people. Not a penny of tax-payers' graft went into it. The largest donation came from the remarkably generous and admirable property company Bruntwood - those indefatigable and estimable patrons of art. There's a lesson in this.

What lesson?

Can you imagine how we could beautify this city if other companies were quite so committed to the arts? Well done to Michael Oglesby, the Bruntwood chairman, who overheard a chap called Christian Wewer and others dreaming up the idea in a restaurant. He went over, liked what he heard and put his hand in his pocket. 

What's the quality of the sculpture like?

Firstly, let's applaud the motive behind the piece. Poland and Britain do share history. We are intertwined and the Manchester region has welcomed many Polish people into its loving embrace.

Also the work will provide a great conversation point for tour guides and passers-by. It will help animate Deansgate.

Wow. Nice words. Yet all the unarticulated 'buts' are giving me a headache. How good is the piece?

Sorry to say, but there are serious problems.

The closest comparison in Manchester is John Cassidy's 'Adrift' (click here) outside Central Library, a Beaux Arts work with multiple figures. The Chopin ensemble is very weak compared to that sculpture and also poorly modelled.

Detail from Cassidy's workDetail from Cassidy's work

Look at Chopin's muse, the lovely Aurore. She's waving an arm so twig-like it looks as though a carelessly tossed paper cup from the nearby Starbucks might snap it. 

Tour, Chopin, Oast 009

Chopin's face is too thin; pixie-like. Yes, the real Chopin had a sharp nose but not like this. If in 2011 people are to risk attempting representational work then they should make sure they can execute a correct likeness. Personally I feel that representational work should remain the domain of football clubs with their statues of past heroes outside grounds. 

Again contrast the Chopin piece with the sureness of touch, the clarity of the modelling, the sharpness of edge in Cassidy's piece (and he was only an average artist) and Sobocinski's work doesn't match up. 

There's a certain awkwardness too about the way the composition is put together with that soldier and the helmeted lady with the spear on the top. 


Why is it on Deansgate?

Pragmatic reasons. The actual place where Chopin performed was the Gentleman's Concert Hall on the site of the Midland Hotel. But here on Deansgate, Bruntwood had space for the work outside its Centurion House office building.

Seems a bit busy round the statue street furniture-wise?

It is too busy. Sobocinski's work has to compete with a bus-stop and cramped site off the main pavement area. It also has to compete with Centurion House behind. The red-brown brick of this building is similar in shade to the base of the memorial, the bronze similar in shade to the window surrounds.

Then there are the trees...from across the road the work seems to disappear.

And why was it aligned with a slight slope on the site which makes it appear to lean back? And why was it not placed at right angles to Deansgate rather than angled at a tangent from it? Very odd. 

Tour, Chopin, Oast 019

Oh dear...

It pains me to make these criticisms given the motive and money behind the work. The criticisms don't finish there either. The big blank rear of the work presents an unhappy side to people walking behind it. Still the opening ceremony was very impressive.

How so?

Poland and Manchester came out in force. There was the Foreign Minister, the Ambassador, a top priest, the Bishop of Manchester, the Council Leader. National Anthems were sung - some of the older Polish folk singing both. There were gents in cracking uniforms with loads of medals.  It was very moving. It struck me that maybe countries that have lost wars or been occupied in living memory are more patriotic than countries like the UK where people are more reluctant to flag-wave, except over football and Royal Weddings.  Poland has more cause to obssess over identity. It's probably more unifying than our way. 

Chopin 050

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12 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

AnonymousSeptember 21st 2011.

Meanwhile, Vimto "monument" has come back to Granby Row, University Campus. Now its coloured.

A PianistSeptember 22nd 2011.

How long before we see a statue of Mr Oglesby??

R.O. DinSeptember 22nd 2011.

He probably deserves one. But the siting of this statue is poor, especially the way it merges into the building behind.

Lord Rogers of RiversideSeptember 26th 2011.

Unbelievable tripe! Miles behind the likes of Hepworth and co.

What has become of modern British sculpture?

Joe LovanoSeptember 26th 2011.

Destined to become a 'curiosity'.

NatalieSeptember 27th 2011.

The lady is actually Jane Stirling... do your research

Jonathan SchofieldSeptember 27th 2011.

Natalie don't be so brusque. Maybe she is. But in the official press pack from the official launch on the official day she's described as the good baroness - I thought I best stick to the official version when writing the piece. I have the press release on my desk here. Either way the poor woman is weakly realised.

AnonymousOctober 5th 2011.

You dont know, how girls were crazy about him and he gave piano lessons and one girl body was everywhere in Paris after attack on her in Chopin time.

Brian SewellOctober 27th 2011.

Am i allowed to swear on here? If i am - Its fucking awful.
That is all. Carry on.

Jonathan SchofieldOctober 27th 2011.

We'd really prefer it if you didn't.

AnonymousNovember 12th 2011.

Unfortunately 'Adrift' will not be with us until 2013 or so, so make do with this one. See http://www.johncassidy.org.uk/

espoirJanuary 12th 2012.

it suits the "Howard Bernstein era" quite well, i.e. seen in the context of all the other stupidities like building an office block on Piccadilly Gardens, closing the Cornerhouse and Library Theatre and replacing modern art Urbis with a football museum.

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