Gnomes; Goddesses; dragons and dogs - what's the point of garden statues? Surely they perform no useful function? Well, yes... and no. There are three good reasons why you might like to have a statue or few. What's your view - are they useless junk or valuable art? You decide.
Firstly, there are links to history. The heritage that involves statues. It's all part of the human psyche. The ancients celebrated the classical gods by replicating them in an acceptable form. Venus was hailed as the deity of gardens. You only have to look at the Renaissance gardens of Italy to realise that many of the oldest formal gardens are outdoor museums. Homes to the muses or goddesses. Daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne. According to Greek mythology there are nine daughters and each of these presided over a different art. Classical figures were created to represent the gods and revered beings. These were placed in beautiful surroundings in order to appease the spirits and create an atmosphere of positive energy and harmony.
Venus reigned supreme in gardens, and is still very much evident today. She is rarely carved from marble in our modern times but is more often cast in concrete or perhaps bronze. The goddess Diana, who saw her mother suffer in childbirth and decided to live in celibacy, became a symbol of purity and virtue and she too makes a calm and beautiful statue, whilst the gods Zeus and the gladiator Mercury are strategically placed for a show of strength and challenge, including this classical statue of gladiator Mercury at Rousham Garden, Oxfordshire.
Where once a sculpture was just about the most important aspect of a garden, the tables have turned. Its generally gardens first, then sculpture as a finishing touch. There are exceptions, of course. Many contemporary sculptors will expect their creation to take pride of place and gardens are sometimes designed around the placement of ornamental embellishment.
The second reason why a sculpture might add another dimension to your life is the fact that they generally increase the feeling of well-being for the occupants of homes and gardens. This is a role not to be sniffed at. Statues are often treated in a similar way to a family pet and they are often purchased on impulse because they remind us of something that makes us feel good.
Human beings just love to create the feeling of a family and it seems that statues are part of this nurturing mentality. Its all about seeing oneself as part of a bigger picture. Creating the illusion of friends even. Yes, people really do speak to their garden statues, and why not? Statues are somtimes added to a to amuse, delight or even shock. Gnomes, for example. What are they all about? They have been around from the early 1800s and were originally a form of good luck charm. A small person in the garden, watching over the occupants of the house.
Lastly, there's a 'snob value' that can be attached to statues. Modern art; classical art; expensive embellishments (no gnomes, little dogs or alligators with lighting-up eyes). These are statues that are meant to be seen, to be admired and to be envied. They help a person to stake a place in society and can be viewed in a similar way to membership of an elite club. These statues say "look at me, I know about art and design. I am educated". Yes, these are things of beauty which can be appreciated in their own right, but they are rarely hidden away for private viewing only.
Animals are undoubtedly the most popular subjects for statues in the domestic gardens. For some reason we have become obsessed with flamingoes, meercats and sloths! The popularity of flamingos can largely be attributed to fashion group Gucci which just loves to include something kitsch and fantastical in photo shoots. Previously it was peacocks that adorned our lives. We are all suckers for fashion.Big cats are always popular this year, particularly since the highly publicised slaying of Cecil the beloved African lion, killed by big game hunters some years ago. We just love to
Strangely, we seem to also like ugly creatures. Gargoyles, dragons and trolls all appear with glee in our gardens. Alongside dogs, cats, pigs, rabbits, birds. Oh, and goddesses, of course.