Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth: A Brief History

Hans Haacke’s sculpture of a skeletal horse was unveiled today on Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth. So what’s the deal? Here’s a handy little history…

The original mid-19th century plan was for the Fourth Plinth to hold a statue of King William IV on a horse. Unfortunately for William, insufficient funds meant this plan was never realised. Debate raged for the next 150 years as to what to do with it until, at the turn of the century, a decision was made to run a rolling programme of temporary works. In 2003 the Mayor of London’s Fourth Plinth Commission was set up to facilitate this programme.

Here’s a timeline of their commissions so far:

Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 18.14.35

2005: Marc Quinn’s Alison Lapper Pregnant

A 13 tonne marble statue of artist Alison Lapper, who was born with phocomelia.

Image: Loz Pycock, CC BY-SA 2.0


Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 18.18.48

2007: Thomas Schütte’s Model for a Hotel 2007

An architectural model of a 21-storey building made of coloured glass.

Image: Loz Pycock, CC BY-SA 2.0



2009: Antony Gormley’s One & Other

Personally, this is my favourite idea. 2,400 members of the public were selected to stand on the plinth for 1 hour and allowed to do anything they wanted to (and take anything that could be carried without help). Though presumably, illegal activities were discouraged. A live feed was provided by Sky Arts.

Gormley himself sums it up best: “In the context of Trafalgar Square with its military, valedictory and male historical statues, this elevation of everyday life to the position formerly occupied by monumental art allows us to reflect on the diversity, vulnerability and particularity of the individual in contemporary society.” [ref]

Image: KarenOgilvie, public domain via Wikimedia Commons


2010: Yinka Shonibare’s Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle

A nod to the history of Trafalgar Square, Shonibare made a replica of Nelson’s HMS Victory and put it in a giant bottle. It’s now part of the permanent collection at the National Maritime Museum.

Image: QuentinUK, CC BY-SA 3.0


2012: Michael Elmgreen & Ingar Dragset’s Powerless Structures, Fig. 101

This work referenced the original plan for the equestrian statue of King William IV. Instead of celebrating powerful kings or generals though, it was designed to portray the “heroism of growing up”. [ref]

Image: garryknight via CC BY-SA 2.0


2013: Katharina Fritsch’s Hanh/Cock

Nope, not a promotional tie-in to Will Smith’s film Hancock. Instead, this was a giant 15 ft sculpture of a blue rooster.

Image: Prioryman via fair use, Wikipedia


2015: Hans Haacke’s Gift Horse

The current work: a skeletal horse with an electronic ribbon displaying a live ticker from the London Stock Exchange. Haacke’s goal is to explore the relationships between power, money and history.


2016: David Shrigley’s Really Good 

From what I can tell, this is going to be a giant Facebook thumbs up ‘like’.

And there we go.  Instead of a permanent, potentially sober and monolithic statue like we see elsewhere in London, we’ve got a vibrant, challenging, entirely public to play with.  What would you create for the Fourth Plinth if you had the chance?


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