The sculptor, Alfred Drury, made his name with the statue “Circe”, originally commissioned for Leeds Art Gallery in 1894, when it won the gold medal at the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1900. He went on to produce sculptures for many other places, including Buckingham palace, the Victoria and Albert museum, the War office and the Old Bailey. Drury’s other works on display in Leeds include the bronze of Joseph Priestley and the so-called ‘Drury Dames’, the eight semi-draped female torch bearers in City Square.
The statue of Circe, depicting a scene from Homer’s ‘Odyssey’ in which the goddess has enchanted Odysseus’ men and turned them into swine with a magical potion, is now fully restored and proudly displayed in Leeds City Museum, however, for fifty years, until moved to Leeds Art gallery for renovation in 2008, she stood on a brick plinth in the middle of a flower bed in Park Square, missing her wand, wreath and cup.
And it is there that I will choose to remember her, somehow always transforming the whole of the neat, municipal square into the far away, magical island of Aeaea, and conjuring through her presence, a link back to the mythic, poetic world of Homer and the gods of Ancient Greece.
To me she was much more beautiful and enigmatic then, with her empty hands fixed in strange, unfathomable gestures, as if suddenly frozen at the beginning of some dance, holding an invisible gem in her left hand through which she appeared to be staring at her father, Helios, the sun, while at the same time, glancing with distain at the three men, turned to swine by her powerful enchantments, slavering and grovelling at her feet, beneath which peeped one of four mysterious faces, each wracked with an impenetrable anguish.
There was always a powerful, pagan eroticism to her nakedness, green striped by verdigris and wind and weather, and an occult marvellousness at the sight of this young girl wielding such intoxicating power over men and beasts, armed with nothing more than youth and beauty, and a supreme self-confidence in her own arcane abilities.
While it may be entirely fit and proper that she is newly burnished, her magical accoutrements replaced and she now has a place of pride in the Leeds City Museum, for me, Park Square itself is a poorer place for her absence, and, despite the presence of Mercury, messenger of the gods, as her replacement, is once more provincial and mundane, no longer as charged with an exotic, erotic mythology.