The History of the Living Statue - Ooh, Interesting! Fascinating Facts

January 13, 2017

This week on Ooh, Interesting! Fascinating Facts, we look into the history of the living statue, an entertainment form that divides opinion like no other. Many love the way they stand in situ for hours, whilst others loathe their art as a tourist trap in the busier parts of cities up and down the UK. But where did living statues begin? Where did living statues come from? This aim blog aims to help you out!

Put simply the history of the living statue – at least where it all began – is lost to time. Arguably the first living statue can be traced back to the ancient Greeks where members of the public would pose for famous sculptors looking to mould their marble. Realistically though, the living statue as we currently know it first appeared in the 19th century as a circus performance. PT Barnum displayed living statues as part of his circus tours, a peculiar curiosity to the minds of those in the 1840s.

In the late 19th century and early 20th century, living statues became ever more widely known thanks to the emergence of the art form known as tableaux vivants; a group of actors would pose and be lit in a particular way so as to appear like paintings. The resulting performance was often shot on camera (which meant the performers had to stand still in their chosen pose) or performed on stage to the amazement of spectators. Cleverly, by tagging these performances as art, nude actors and actresses were able to perform erotic entertainment on stage, flouting theatre censorship laws. As long as the girls didn’t move, it was deemed okay by the masses. The most notable instance of this was under the stewardship of the famous Mrs. Henderson at the Windmill Theatre in London in the 1930s and 40s.

Since that time, living statues have featured prominently in both art and film – The Phantom of the Opera and Hot Fuzz are two recent films that have shown living statues on screen, whilst revered duo Gilbert & George utilised living statues as part of their gallery installations in the 1960s. Moving from inside to out, street performances too have flourished in the intervening years as various living statues appeared near famous landmarks all over Europe. Though varying in quality from person to person, they are a magnet for tourists, only moving when money is placed in front of their plinth.

If no money is thrown in front of the living statue, either because they are unimpressive as a statue or their costume doesn’t resonate with those walking by, the performer doesn’t get paid that day. With numbers still proliferating throughout London and the UK, it’s clear that the living statues are still well loved and make the perfect addition to your corporate event or private party. Despite their presence on the local high street, nobody will be expecting them in your back garden!



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By Henry Fosdike