In 1843 the French sculptor Emile de Nieuwerkercke showed King William II his model of an equestrian statue of Prince William of Orange. The king was immediately charmed, commissioned the sculpture and paid for its creation from his own funds. In 1845 it was unveiled opposite the Noordeinde Palace.
It is at least remarkable that the prince and a national commission were busy erecting a statue to the prince at the same time. Sculptor Royer, who had already received approval for his design in 1842, only completed the statue in 1848. The work is said to have been postponed for a number of years, but it remains unclear why. One thing is certain; with the erection of the equestrian statue, the king performed an overtaking manoeuvre that caused a great deal of controversy.
The equestrian statue of William of Orange is the oldest free-standing statue in The Hague and the first equestrian statue in the Netherlands. The Nieuwerkercke depicted the prince as a ruler: a general in armour and with a marshal's staff. On horseback, elevated high above the people. This motif has its origins in classical antiquity and depicts absolute power. This heroic form probably appealed strongly to the sponsor King William II, who together with the British and Prussians had defeated Napoleon at Waterloo (1815).
However, this did not apply to everyone. Although the artistic qualities of the work were widely praised, there was fierce criticism. A tribute to the Father of the Netherlands had to be made on behalf of the people and not only on behalf of the king, who had acted selfishly when erecting the equestrian statue. Moreover, the comment was that the image was far removed from historical reality. William of Orange had, after all, been of more political than military significance to our country.