Edward Young, who co-wrote an acclaimed biography of Disraeli, said: “I do think they have missed the point. Disraeli would not have said he was gay. He was mainly in love with himself.
“It’s a bit of a stretch to say he was a warrior for Pride. He certainly wasn’t. It’s us translating our own labels on the past.”
Julian Spalding, a former director of galleries and museums in Sheffield, Manchester and Glasgow, dismissed it as “childish graffiti given contemporary credibility by trivial wokery”.
Michael Daley, director of ArtWatch UK, which campaigns to protect the integrity of works of art and architecture, said: “This is a culturally wrong-headed and politically cheapskate stunt.
“Architectural and sculptural civic heritage should be respected for what it is and not treated as a playground for parasitical art world exhibitionism and politically illiterate nihilism.”
David Lee, editor of The Jackdaw, the satirical art magazine, described such “trivial intervention [as] symptomatic of the contemporary art world’s routine disrespect for anything historical”.
While John Larson, who headed sculpture conservation at the V&A, said: “I find it disappointing when other people seek to impose their viewpoint or taste on a sculpture, in effect rewriting history.”
For Karen Arthur, one of the artists behind the new interpretation of the Queen Victoria monument, the response is water off a duck’s back.
She said: “Critics are entitled to their opinion… I’m just thrilled that we’re talking about statues that usually people walk past and don’t take a blind bit of notice of.”
Liverpool was chosen because of its rich history, with the highest number of statues in the UK outside of London.
The city council gave permission for the project as it owns most of the statues. Robin Kemp, its head of creative for Culture Liverpool, said: “I would, on behalf of the artists, take exception to the idea that what they’ve done creatively is tantamount to putting a traffic cone on… It absolutely is art.”
For the organisers, the cultural service of Liverpool city council and Sky Arts, the unveiling of each statue was an opportunity “to look again, think again, and question how we feel about the public art that surrounds us”.
A Statues Redressed documentary will air on Monday on Sky Arts and in it, former National Gallery director Neil MacGregor, says: “Statues are about telling stories and what I think is happening in Liverpool is a new way to engage the citizen in the conversation.”