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How a Scottish chemist was immortalised in St Petersburg – by mistake

9 September 2018

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.

A sculpture in St Petersburg has thrown up an amusing case of mistaken identity – and highlights the folly of taking the internet at face value. A statue of the French architect Jean-François Thomas de Thomon was commissioned as part of a series commemorating the leading architects of the former Russian capital and the subsequent work by Alexander Taratynov was installed in Alexander Park in 2011.

Thomas Thomson (1773–1852). Wikimedia Commons

There it has stood for seven years. But this summer, sleuths from the Fontanka newspaper noticed that it bears a striking resemblance to the 19th-century Scottish chemist Thomas Thomson; the likeness, alas, is more than a coincidence. It turns out that the sculptor had depicted the wrong man entirely.

Taratynov has since owned up to his error, suggesting that a dodgy Google Images result may have been to blame. ‘Information for the work was of course taken from Internet resources,’ he told Newsweek. ‘We did not refer to historians. We were confident that the Internet would give us the correct information.’

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Lead image: used under Creative Commons licence (CC BY-SA 4.o)