Antony Dufort (b.1948)
This bronze maquette is the first of two designs for what was considered to be one of the most important political commissions of the last hundred years...
Margaret Thatcher needs no introduction as one of the most influential statesman of the twentieth century. She was the first female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the longest serving Prime Minister for over 150 years, Thatcher served three terms between 1979 and 1990.
In 2005 Mr Speaker’s Works of Art Committee commissioned Antony Dufort to make an over life-size bronze sculpture of Thatcher for Members’ Lobby of the House of Commons. This was considered to be one of the most important political commissions of the last hundred years. The bronze maquette described here, cast No. 1 in a limited edition of 9 is the first of two designs for this commission.
As part of the commissioning process, Dufort prepared two alternate designs based on a number of life sittings with Lady Thatcher in The Lord Chancellor’s rooms in May 2006, where she demonstrated the sort of gestures she might make during a major speech in the House of Commons. In this first design, the sculptor’s preferred choice, she gestures with her right hand, palm upwards, her left hand on her hip. On her wrist, she wears, as she always did, a bracelet of semi precious stones, given to her by her husband Denis who died in 2003. In the second design, ultimately chosen for over life-size enlargement (2.23 m high), she points with her right hand, and holds speech notes in her left.
At the unveiling of this, the ‘House of Commons’ version in 2007, Margaret Thatcher said how pleased she was with her likeness and commented, to laughter and applause, that “I might have preferred iron but bronze will do. It won’t rust.” Originally the rules of parliament did not allow statues of living parliamentarians to be commissioned, however, in 2002 these rules changed and sculptures were allowed to be produced five years after an individual’s death or after three parliaments had elapsed since they had left The House of Commons.
Dufort’s ‘House of Commons’ statue was erected during the night so not to provoke anti-Thatcherites, particularly following the decapitation of the £150,000 sculpture of Thatcher by Neil Simmons on loan to the Guildhall, London since 2002.
A smaller version of this maquette, measuring 13 inches was sold for £110,000 at the Conservative Summer party in June 2008 and the unique artist’s proof of this large version was sold four years later at The Black and White Party in February 2012 for £120,000. Both were the highest prices for an auction lot at these events. At the Black and White Fundraiser in February 2015, a maquette of the House of Commons version sold for £200,000. Sculptural works of Thatcher by Antony Dufort have been popular in recent years and have fetched, unsurprisingly, high prices at auction.
Margaret Thatcher was born Margaret Hilda Roberts on 13th October 1925 to Alfred and Beatrice Ethel Roberts, who owned a grocer’s shop in Grantham. Margaret was educated at the local grammar school, Grantham Girls’ High School and later attended Somerville College in Oxford University to read Chemistry. Following university, Margaret became a research chemist in Colchester and met Denis Thatcher, a wealthy divorcee in February 1951, whom she married at the end of the year. She went on to read the Bar the following year and qualified as a barrister in 1953, the same year that she gave birth to twins Carol and Mark. In 1959 she became the Conservative MP for Finchley, Shadow Spokesperson for Education, and by 1970 she had entered the Cabinet as Education Secretary to Edward Heath. During the 1975 party leadership election she stood against Edward Heath and won, taking over from James Callahan as Conservative Prime Minister in 1979.
Margaret Thatcher entered a government that was almost bankrupt, trying to support a country suffering from high unemployment, electricity shortages, three-day weeks and strikes occurring on a weekly basis. The aim of Thatcher’s government was to help individuals become more self-reliant, she privatised many industries including public transport and social housing, reduced the power of trade unions and cut social welfare programs. She sent Britain to war against Argentina after they invaded the Falkland Islands in 1982, this was a ten week war that led to Argentina surrendering, and the Tories winning a landslide parliamentary victory the following year in 1983.
Having served three terms as Prime Minister, Thatcher stepped down in November 1990 over issues of European policy. She left the House of Commons in 1992 and was appointed a life peerage to the House of Lords receiving the title of Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven. She was later made Lady Companion of the Order of the Garter, the highest order of Chivalry awarded in Britain. Margaret Thatcher died on 8th April 2013 at the Ritz Hotel in London, she was given a ceremonial funeral with full military honours in St Paul’s Cathedral.
Antony Dufort won a Senior History Scholarship to New College Oxford in 1971, later attending Chelsea School of Art in London where he studied Art and Design, followed by a Masters Degree, before undertaking a further Master’s Degree course at Goldsmiths College in 1976. Dufort has created many public sculptures, as well as portrait sculptures of Cardinal Hume and Tudor Monarchs for the Royal Borough of Greenwich, he sculpted the popular and dynamic ‘Fast Bowler’ at Lord’s cricket Ground, and ‘Testing for gas’, a massive bronze tribute sculpture to the Coal Miners of the Nottinghamshire coalfields. His work can be found in many Public Collections.
Dufort is a Council Member of the Society of Portrait Sculptors and a Member of the Royal British Society of Sculptors. In July last year, the Royal Mint introduced a new ‘definitive’ £2 currency coin and the reverse was designed by Dufort. It bears an image of Britannia modelled in part on his wife, Dorota Rapacz Dufort, also a public sculptor. He is currently completing a monumental sculpture of Her Majesty the Queen for the Honourable Artillery Company, of which she is Captain General, to celebrate her ninetieth year.
 Iron Lady is Honoured in Bronze, BBC News Online, Wednesday 21st February 2007.