On the Greenwich Bestiary we chuckle at John Reardon’s Monument to a Dead Parrot. It’s a bird (a cockatoo, to be precise) with a marvellous story that I won’t go into now – you’ll have to come on the walk!
Lately, it has put me in mind of Trafalgar Square. Partly, that’s because of the arrival there soon of Katharina Fritsch’s Hahn/Cock: another delightfully unexpected bird to find perched publicly on a plinth. (Incidentally, on the Bestiary we swing past a Fourth Plinth alumnus, Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle by Yinka Shonibare – but that’s a topic for a different post.)
Thinking about how Fritsch’s Cock will cope with the four lions guarding Nelson’s column led me to another curious connection with Reardon’s parrot: this time to do with its deadness. Whilst it might seem bizarre for Reardon to have produced a bronze sculpture of a dead animal, it turns out that’s exactly what Sir Edwin Landseer did with his lions for Trafalgar Square. Apparently, he was so determined to make them zoologically accurate that he had a corpse from London Zoo sent to him. The story goes that the servant who opened the door went to Landseer and asked ‘Did you order a lion, Sir Hedwin?’ much as if he had sent for a pizza.
I’m sure Landseer wasn’t the first sculptor to use dead animals; such details are not traditionally advertised. In that context, I particularly like the wry honesty of Reardon’s unfortunate parrot – as if, in death, exposing a long-held artistic guilty secret.