'My favourite work of art': Statue with cone on its head lures Banksy to Glasgow

The Duke of Wellington statue outside Glasgow's Gallery of Modern Art

Banksy says the Duke of Wellington statue was the deciding factor in bringing his new exhibition to Glasgow.

Located on Queen Street, in front of the Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA), the statue has infamously been adorned with an orange and white traffic cone for most of the last 40 years.

In a gallery label for his new show – Cut & Run – the elusive street artist describes the statue as his “favourite work of art in the UK and the reason I’ve brought the show here”.

Banksy has picked Glasgow as the host of his CUT & RUN: 25 years card labour showCut&Run/GoMA

But just how as the humble traffic cone become synonymous with Scotland’s largest city and has its presence on top of the Duke of Wellington always been celebrated?

STV News takes a look back at the history of one of the country’s quirkiest attractions.

When did the cone first appear?

A replica of the statue was used during the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games.Chris Jackson / Staff via Getty Images

The tradition of placing a cone on top of the Duke of Wellington statue, in Royal Exchange Square, started in the 1980s when people, often under the influence of alcohol, found it amusing to scale the plinth and adorn the Duke’s head.

The local authority removed it each time…but they were fighting a losing battle as the cone quickly returned. It soon became a popular tourist attraction for people visiting the city.

In 2005, Glasgow City Council and then Strathclyde Police took a stance of asking the public not to replace the cone, citing minor damage to the statue and the potential for injury when attempting to place a cone

Another controversy broke out in 2013, when the council began to work on a proposal that would have increased the height of the statue’s plinth in an attempt to discourage the practice.

But the Glaswegian public was outraged and formed campaigns to put a stop to the proposal. The outcry against the upgrade was so strong that the city abandoned the plan altogether.   

Glasgow hosted the Commonwealth Games the following year and a replica of the statue, complete with cone, featured in the opening ceremony at Celtic Park in the east end of the city.

Different guises

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The Duke traditionally adorns the humble orange and yellow traffic cone.

But from time-to-time his headwear has become more topical and reflected the prevailing news climate of the time.

During the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, the Duke was photographed wearing a face covering.

And in March 2022, the statue was adorned with a specially-knitted yellow and blue cone to show support for Ukraine following the invasion by Russia.

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The exhibition

Pieces in the upcoming Banksy exhibition include the stencils for Girl With Balloon and Kissing Coppers.

It also features a model explaining how the artist managed to shred Girl With Balloon during an auction at Sotheby’s in London in 2018.

Getty Images

Gareth James, museum manager at GoMA, said: “It’s a great retrospective of the 25 years of his works. This is the first show he’s done in 13 years.

“This is the real deal. We’ve got his stencils and he’s also explaining how he’s worked in the past, and it’s just an amazing array of his work – it’s such a coup for us to have landed this show.

A stencil for a work that appeared on a damaged building in Ukraine, showing a female gymnast balancing, is also on show, as is the stab-proof Union Jack vest Stormzy wore when he headlined at Glastonbury in 2019.

STV News

The exhibition will open on Sunday and will run for three months, opening all night at weekends.

If it proves popular the show may then tour.

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