John Platt statue, Oldham, by the sculptor D.W. Stevenson - Sculpture of the Month for August 2017

John Platt of Oldham, by the sculptor D.W. Stevenson.

The statue of John Platt in Alexandra Park, Oldham, is a substantial creation with four allegorical girls along with the principal figure. The bronze figure of John Platt himself is depicted standing, one foot somewhat forward, and the hand on that side also forward in an expansive gesture; the other on his hip, an easy but commanding pose. The best view of his portrait is a little to the right had side, with the left side somehow looking rather bland. His face is rather youthful, relatively unlined, but with high forehead and framed with a short, full beard. His dress is Victorian, a short jacket or coat cut a little above the knee, a robe little linger thrown over it, giving some scope of lines of drapery, and full trousers over rather modern shoes.

John Platt statue, different views

Platt stands on a short pillar of Aberdeen red granite, with four plinths or angle blocks at the base bearing the allegorical figures, which are really rather good. They are recorded as representing Science and Art, Engineering and Manufacturing, but it is not so clear which is which, as some of the accoutrements have disappeared. We have one with a parchment, her other hand raised, but whether it held a pen, for Art, or some instrument emblematic of Engineering, I do not know. A second girl has both hands raised, once holding some larger object or shaft of it, which could have been anything. A third with a book or tablet, her other hand by her side, and the fourth, the only one instantly recognisable as Science, holds a chemical retort (distillation apparatus) - for other allegorical statues of Science see this page.

The four allegorical girls.

Putting aside who they represent, these figures are fine examples of the Victorian Classical girl. Each wears Classical draperies, thus a light dress, of the flimsiest material to emphasise the curvaceious figure underneath, collarless, with short sleeves to leave the arms bare, and a light cloak over the right shoulder as we look at her. It is gathered with some drawstring at the waist or higher, just beneath the breasts, forms slight creases and folds accentuating the form of the stomach, and then is largely concealed below with a thick cloak thrown over the legs to form a heavy skirt. Each figure is of similar type, but a variation on the theme: one with longer sleeves, one with none at all but a simple strap, with slightly lighter or heavier material, and with variations to the cloak. Their hair is different too, with Science being entirely cowled, and one with the hair gathered up beautifully behind. The style is Classical, and physically these girls have a solidity of neck, shoulder and arm that hearkens to the Hellenic ideal, but the faces are Victorian: there is only a nod to the nose being a continuation of the forehead, and the shape of the cheeks, the slight sentiment in the eyes, and above all the mouths are of the late 19th Century. But a most harmonious group, and an ornament to Oldham.

Variety of Classical hairstyles.

John Platt was a powerful industrialist in Oldham, three times Mayor of the town, and MP. The sculptor, who signs the base of the monument, was D.W. Stevenson, not so well remembered today. David Watson Stevenson studied in Scotland under William Brodie, and most of his work is in Scotland, including portrait statues of Robert Burns and Robert Louis Stevenson. This was one of his earlier public works, and the four female figures were popular enough that he made a rather similar but not identical set for the Saracen Fountain in Glasgow. Among his other works are some good ideal nudes, including Lady Godiva, Eve, Galatea and Echo, all very Victorian in form and spirit.

Typical ideal nude by D.W. Stevenson: Lady Godiva.

Alexandra Park contains a few other statues, including the worthy statue of Robert Ashcroft by F.W. Pomeroy, the truly dire statue of Joseph Howarth by Henry Burnett, a Classically styled but rather modern statue entitled Rebecca and another called Emma recreated by the modern sculptor Andrew Sinclair after lost originals from early in the park's history, the Radcliffe fountain with a cherubic figure, and a pavilion with two lions, all in the most beautiful parkland setting.

Alexandra Park pavilion with lions.

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