Article by Mario de Marco, Minister for Tourism, Environment and Culture:
Les Gavroches is undeniably one of Antonio Sciortino’s most famous sculptures. It was originally located in the iconic Upper Barrakka Gardens in Valletta from where one can enjoy spectacular views of Malta’s Grand Harbour. The statue was placed there in 1907 shortly after its acquisition by the Malta Society of Arts Manufacture and Commerce and subsequently presented as a gift to the nation.
Antonio Sciortino is Malta’s most important twentieth-century sculptor. Of humble origins, Sciortino studied at Rome’s most important art institutions and was later to become director of the British Academy in Rome. His studio in Via Margutta (Rome) attracted clients from all over Europe and beyond. Sciortino worked for royalty and nobility, politicians and great men; capturing their likenesses, immortalising their quests and representing historic identity and significance through public monuments. As a sculptor he stands for Malta’s creatives and their quest to achieve excellence in their endeavours on the international stage. As a Maltese citizen his success makes us proud, his achievements beckon positive acknowledgement and his determination charts a guiding example for us to emulate.
Valletta is both a theatre and a museum. Its walls enclose an impressive collection of art and buildings, most of which are accessible to the public. It is also a theatre in which people interact sometimes as actors and sometimes as spectators. In this scenario, the works of art become props which bring out emotions, not unlike the way we normally react during a performance.
Les Gavroches features three life-size figures inspired by characters from Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. Gavroches, the elder boy at the centre drags forward a toddler to his right and a little girl to his left. The three are dressed in simple clothing and stand united to form a cohesive image of a defiant and resistant childhood in the face of adverse social conditions. The sculpture stands for both hope and innocence, representative of a young generation aspiring to freedom and progress.
As Minister responsible for Culture I highlight it as a masterpiece. As a father of two young boys, I can appreciate fully the message that Sciortino wanted to convey.
Valletta has for a while now enjoyed the status of a UNESCO World Heritage City. With 2018 to look forward to when Valletta will shine as the European Capital for Culture, it is no wonder then that Les Gavroches acts as a visual representation to this forward-looking image of Malta where hopefully Valletta and its Grand Harbour will brilliantly perform, bringing emotions just as Les Gavroches still does.