A NEW sculpture of one of Scotland’s most “beloved” figures is set to go on display at the Surgeons' Hall Museums in Edinburgh.

Sculptor Natasha Phoenix has created a portrait of Elsie Inglis, the physician, surgeon and pioneer of medical education for women.

In October, plans to honour Inglis with a bronze statue on the Royal Mile were engulfed in controversy over a sudden decision to suspend the competition before the deadline and offered it to the king's sculptor. 

Phoenix, who is based in East Lothian, hopes that donating her sculpture will go some way in drawing a line under the issue and help to celebrate Inglis for her role in Scottish history.

Who is Elsie Inglis?

Inglis was born in 1864 in the Himalayas of India and her family were descendants of the Inglis of Inverness.

By 1878, the family had moved into their new home in Bruntsfield, Edinburgh. In 1892, she qualified as a doctor before opening a general practice in the capital in 1894 as well as a hospital for women and children and she was actively involved in the campaign for women’s votes.

During the First World War, she organised hospital units staffed by women and led one of these in Serbia, where she became the first woman to receive the Order of the White Eagle, the highest Serbian honour for heroism.

This came after she inquired at the war office if women doctors and surgeons were permitted to serve in front-line hospitals and she was told to “go home and sit still”.

Why is she so iconic?

“I think that she is our greatest Scot”, Phoenix told The National. “She was one of our most influential and important doctors. She came from privilege but she used that privilege to collect money and was a staunch socialist.

"She worked right at the beginning of modern maternity care."

In spite of all that she achieved though, the sculptor can’t help but feel that Inglis doesn’t have the place in history which she deserves.

Phoenix used to work as a primary school teacher and believes that Inglis should be central to the curriculum.

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She explained: “Scottish women, as you often find with women in western countries, have so often been written out of history.

“There’s been the occasional nod but women are omitted or their parts are played down.

“Inglis was incredibly well known but then she was gradually omitted. It took me a little while to find information about her.”

Why was there controversy over her statue?

In 2017, efforts began to establish a statue to Inglis in recognition of her work. Campaigners planned to erect a bronze statue to Inglis but this was then suddenly suspended. 

A statement released by the trustees at the time read: “The reaction to our decision has comprised both positive support and negative but what’s concerning is the level of vitriol directed by some of the contributors, which is bordering on defamatory.

“Given this position, the trustees have taken the decision to pause the process and reflect on both the positive and negative feedback received, particularly from our supporters to date, to consider our options and will make further comment after this period of reflection.”

The National: Phoenix's statue was made using clay Phoenix's statue was made using clay (Image: Natasha Phoenix)

Phoenix had initially hoped to enter the competition, saying she went to “some of the best sculptors” in the world for training.

She worried that the controversy surrounding the initial statue had “besmirched” Inglis’s reputation as that was all she would be associated with.

Surgeon’s Hall

However, she has now had her work accepted by the Surgeons' Hall Museums.

“I was looking at their Instagram and I mentioned I had been building Inglis from skull shapes because in the photographs we have of her she is quite ill so I’ve done it quite clinically using measurements”, Phoenix explained.

The museum felt the end product was a “true representation” and Phoenix has said that it is an “honour” to have her work accepted.

She already showed it off to around 70 people at a small pub in Edinburgh which she said was indicative of how “beloved” a figure Inglis is.

“This is definitely a positive because after she’s been on exhibition she will move to be on public display.

“It’s good that she’s getting recognised because she was a brilliant surgeon.”

The formal handover of the sculpture will be at a private event on February 6 and from the day after it will be available to see for a month.