Russian statue mistakenly portrays Scottish chemist

Error on Wikipedia page meant St Petersburg statue used likeness of Thomas Thomson instead of French architect

August 21, 2018
Source: istock

A statue of a Scottish university professor has mistakenly been erected in St Petersburg.

The Russian city had intended to honour Jean-François Thomas de Thomon, a French architect who designed a number of its neoclassical buildings in the 18th and 19th centuries.

However, sculptors commissioned to create the artwork in the city’s Alexander Park confused him with the scientist Thomas Thomson, who was Regius professor of chemistry at the University of Glasgow from 1818 to 1852.

The error has come to light seven years after the statue was unveiled in 2011, after the project’s lead sculptor Alexander Taratynov admitted that he based de Thomon’s likeness on an image taken from Wikipedia, which was later shown to be incorrect.

“We were confident that the internet would give us the correct information,” Mr Taratynov told Fontanka, a local newspaper, adding that he had corroborated the image with other sources, including the St Petersburg tourist site, but “did not refer to historians”.

He added that, because there was no verified picture of the famous architect, an “invented, composite image could be created” to replace that of the Scottish chemist.

Professor Thomson – the inventor of the saccharometer, which is used to determine the amount of sugar in a solution – is also credited with giving silicon its current name.

A spokesman for the [University of Glasgow] said that the accidental tribute to a “remarkable individual” was nonetheless welcome, The Sunday Times reported on 19 August.

“While the creation of a statue of Professor Thomson was obviously not the intention of the sculptor, the inadvertent error has given us much cause to smile in Scotland,” the spokesman said.

“Should the opportunity arise, we would be delighted to offer additional information on Professor Thomson to interested parties in St Petersburg.”

jack.grove@timeshighereducation.com

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