Whatever opinion Rachel Holmes (A new feminist statue is a great idea. Shame they picked the wrong feminist, 15 April) holds regarding the statue in Parliament Square, it is distressing that she ends her piece with the now disproved and outdated comment about the nature of Emily Wilding Davison’s death.
Emily indeed lost her life to the cause. However, at the Epsom Derby she was attempting to petition the King and took a chance to pin something to a horse. It turned out to be the king’s.
Evidence unearthed leading up to the centenary of Emily’s death finally put paid to the myth. Such material included: family and local material referenced in Maureen Howe’s book Emily Davison – a suffragette’s family album; new film footage uncovered by Clare Balding and team for the Channel 4 film Secrets of a Suffragette; and an understanding of the woman herself from her comprehensive writings. The latter, meticulously edited in In the Thick of the Fight: The Writings of Emily Wilding Davison by Emeritus Professor of English Carolyn Collette, revealed a woman driven by her spiritual beliefs for whom suicide would have been seen as a mortal sin (indeed it was a crime in the UK until 1961 – suicides could not be buried in consecrated ground).
• To claim that there has been a “stronger focus on the Pankhursts because of their very dramatic and militant approach” to the women’s suffrage campaign (Letters, 17 April) is to ignore some pertinent facts. Contrary to popular opinion, the Women’s Social and Political Union, led by Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst, was never a single issue campaign. As early as 1908, it was made clear that the suffragettes wanted wider social reforms that would bring equality for women in all walks of life. As Emmeline Pankhurst pointed out, “We are fighting for a time when every little girl born into the world will have an equal chance with her brothers.”
The “militant” suffragettes were struggling against rampant sexism which is why they adopted dramatic tactics, such as hunger striking, and endured the torture of forcible feeding. These radical women deserve a statue in Parliament Square that does not bow to the double standard they fought so hard against in their day. If Millicent Garrett Fawcett was so admired, why did her supporters not campaign for this honour? Certainly those that loved and admired Emmeline Pankhurst did so, as is evident in her wonderful statue in Victoria Gardens, erected in 1930, close to the House of Lords.
University of Portsmouth
• I couldn’t agree more with Martin Jennings (Letters, 17 April). Much has been made recently of the uncredited work of Camille Claudel (Rodin’s assistant who did much of his work). People seem outraged to discover she was not acknowledged as an artist in her own right, and yet this is still a common practice in the art world.
Since the rise of the Young British Artists, art has become big business. Big name artists churn out ideas and often employ uncredited artisansto realise the work for them. I have sculpted for high profile artists myself and I know a lot of fellow sculptors who rely on this work to survive. This is a system that must not be employed for a public statue that is being made to commemorate a figure from history. A great statue should capture the subject’s spirit. This requires a deep understanding of portraiture, anatomy and composition that can only be learnt through years of study and dedication. Conceptual artists are often more concerned with self-reflection than portraying another person. If such an artist is commissioned to create a statue they have to employ somebody else to bring the sculptor’s knowledge and talent to the piece. To then not even credit the sculptor on the final piece of art is both ignorant and wrong.
Lewes, East Sussex
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