A Sculpture for Mary Wollstonecraft
ArtistMaggi Hambling
MediumBronze, granite
SubjectMary Wollstonecraft
LocationLondon, United Kingdom
Coordinates51°33′06″N 0°05′06″W / 51.55153°N 0.08511°W / 51.55153; -0.08511

A Sculpture for Mary Wollstonecraft is a public sculpture commemorating the 18th-century feminist writer and advocate Mary Wollstonecraft in Newington Green, London. A work of the British artist Maggi Hambling, it was unveiled on 10 November 2020.[1][2]


The work is a representation of a naked female figure, emerging out of organic matter[3] which the BBC described as "a swirling mingle of female forms".[4] Wollstonecraft's most famous quotation, "I do not wish women to have power over men but over themselves", is inscribed on the plinth.[3] The sculpture is inspired by Wollstonecraft's claim to be "the first of a new genus".

The sculpture is sited opposite the Newington Green Unitarian Church that Wollstonecraft attended.[5]

Campaign for the sculpture

The "Mary on the Green" group[6] was founded in 2010 to campaign and raise money for a statue of Wollstonecraft on Newington Green. The group reached its target of £143,300 in 2019.[6] The campaign was chaired by Bee Rowlatt who is a writer and journalist.[7] Rowlatt is also the founding trustee of the Wollstonecraft Society, a human rights education charity.[7] Hambling was commissioned to create the work in 2018.[3][8][9]

Hambling's design for the sculpture was selected unanimously by a panel of curators and the public, and chosen over the design of artist Martin Jennings.[10]

Reaction and commentary

Hambling in 2006

Some critics perceived the figure as a depiction of Mary Wollstonecraft, however the campaign behind it describes it as "a sculpture of an idea".[11][12] Hambling intended the figure to represent an everywoman, signifying the birth of the feminist movement, rather than Wollstonecraft herself.[11] The campaign describes the sculpture's form as a deliberate opposition to "traditional male heroic statuary" of the Victorian era, instead showing a small figure who "has evolved organically from, is supported by, and does not forget, all her predecessors".[13]

The sculpture was criticised for its depiction of nudity and objectification of the female form,[14] with some considering it inappropriate to represent a feminist figure in such a light. Hambling defended her work by saying that the figure was not created in the historical likeness of Wollstonecraft,[13] and that she felt as though "clothes would have restricted her. Statues in historic costume look like they belong to history because of their clothes. It's crucial that she is 'now'."[15] Other hostile responses wrote that many personifications of pure womanhood already existed in classic statuary in various nameless angels or characters like Marianne, and that a new sculpture directly of a successful female figure such as Wollstonecraft would have been preferred rather than yet another abstract woman. Other criticisms simply thought that the sculpture was ugly and generic, making the figure come across as a blank robot.[16]

A crowd-funded campaign was launched shortly following the reveal of Hambling's sculpture to create a statue based on Martin Jennings' alternate design.[17]

See also


  1. ^ "Covid: Maggi Hambling unveils 75th birthday lockdown works". BBC.com. BBC. Retrieved 7 November 2020.
  2. ^ Brown, Mark (10 November 2020). "Mary Wollstonecraft finally honoured with statue after 200 years". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 November 2020.
  3. ^ a b c Slawson, Nicola (16 May 2018). "Maggi Hambling picked to create Mary Wollstonecraft statue". The Guardian.
  4. ^ "Mary Wollstonecraft statue: 'Mother of feminism' sculpture provokes backlash". BBC News. 10 November 2020. Retrieved 10 November 2020.
  5. ^ "Mary on the Green". www.maryonthegreen.org. Retrieved 26 October 2020.
  6. ^ a b "Mary on the Green". www.maryonthegreen.org. Archived from the original on 20 November 2020. Retrieved 8 March 2021.
  7. ^ a b "About | Bee Rowlatt". www.beerowlatt.com. Retrieved 8 March 2021.
  8. ^ Hedges, Frances (22 February 2019). "Maggi Hambling is paying tribute to the feminist icon Mary Wollstonecraft". Town & Country.
  9. ^ Lockhart, Alastair (26 October 2020). "Wollstonecraft to make Newington Green return". Islington Now.
  10. ^ Barrett, Helen (13 November 2020). "Mary Wollstonecraft row shows how confused we are about public art". www.ft.com. Retrieved 9 March 2021.
  11. ^ a b "'It's a sculpture of an idea': Activist defends nude Mary Wollstonecraft statue amid backlash". The World from PRX. Retrieved 13 November 2020. But Rowlatt says a lot of the criticism comes from a place of misunderstanding. "That's the mistake that pretty much everyone has made," she said. "This is not a statue of Mary Wollstonecraft. It's a sculpture of an idea."
  12. ^ Selvin, Claire (10 November 2020). "Mary Wollstonecraft Monument in London Generates Controversy". ARTnews.com. Retrieved 13 November 2020.
  13. ^ a b "Mary Wollstonecraft finally honoured with statue after 200 years". The Independent. 10 November 2020. Archived from the original on 10 November 2020. Retrieved 10 November 2020.
  14. ^ Chakrabarti, Paromita (12 November 2020). "Sculpture celebrating Mary Wollstonecraft draws criticism".
  15. ^ Dex, Robert (10 November 2020). "Artist behind Mary Wollstonecraft statue say critics missed the point". www.standard.co.uk. Retrieved 10 November 2020.
  16. ^ O'Grady, Megan (18 February 2021). "Why Are There So Few Monuments That Successfully Depict Women?". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 March 2021.
  17. ^ Patterson, Sally (18 November 2020). "Crowdfunder for new Mary Wollstonecraft statue launched after controversy surrounds Newington Green piece". Hackney Gazette. Hackney Gazette. Retrieved 9 March 2021.