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London has over 1,500 public monuments, but how often do people really notice them?

One that I pass often has a story that makes it quite exceptional among London's many statues. It's not a military officer or a monarch, but a large figure wrapped in strange baggy clothing, holding a mysterious pole.

A plaque identifies the figure as Robert Falcon Scott, Captain in the Royal Navy, who is being commemorated here for leading an expedition to the South Pole. The statue is the subject of a new film by HENI Talks.

He wasn't a conqueror – or even successful in his mission. He did reach the South Pole, only to discover that he'd been beaten in the race to be first. He and his four companions died on their way back to base.

Captain Scott (1868–1912)

Captain Scott (1868–1912) 1914–1915

Kathleen Scott (1878–1947)

Waterloo Place, Westminster

But what turns this sad story of perseverance into something else is the fact that Kathleen Scott, the explorer's widow, was commissioned to create this sculpture as a public memorial. Trained in London and Paris, Scott was a prolific sculptor, notably of portrait heads and busts, and also of several larger public monuments. The statue of Captain Scott was Kathleen Scott's first and largest public sculpture.

Compared with the nearby generals and another Arctic explorer standing on the other side of Waterloo Place, Sir John Franklin, this is distinctly modern in style. The explorer – encased in his bulky polar clothing – is far removed from any classical hero. He's not carrying a spear or a sword, but a ski pole. His face shows grim determination.

Captain Scott (1868–1912)

Captain Scott (1868–1912) 1914–1915

Kathleen Scott (1878–1947)

Waterloo Place, Westminster

He's not to be pitied in this pose. I think this would be what Kathleen learned from her mentor Rodin, who broke the mould with his sculptures in unusual poses, like his sombre Burghers of Calais in Victoria Tower Gardens.

Still from HENI Talk's film on Kathleen Scott's statue of Captain Robert Scott

Still from HENI Talk's film on Kathleen Scott's statue of Captain Robert Scott

For over 300 years, public statues have been erected across London to celebrate British history. Kathleen Scott's memorial has a strange dignity, a quality of reserve, which is quite rare in the often bombastic world of public statues.

Ian Christie, media historian and curator

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