Gilbert's £1.2m Statue of St George Sets New World Record at Bonhams Fine Decorative Arts 1200-1900 London Sale

A newly discovered statue of St George by the major 19th and early 20th century British sculptor, Sir Alfred Gilbert, sold for £1,222,7450 at Bonhams' Fine Design 1200-1900 sale in London on Friday 18 December. A close variant on Gilbert's design for the statue of St George on the tomb of the Duke of Clarence in St George's chapel, it had been estimated at £80,000-120,000. This establishes a new world record auction price for a work by Alfred Gilbert.

Bonhams Head of European Sculpture and Works of Art, Michael Lake said, "Being involved in identifying this wonderful statue and bringing it to market has been truly exciting. I am delighted that it sold for such an astonishing sum, and set a new world auction record for a work by Gilbert."

In 1892, Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence – the eldest grandson of Queen Victoria, and hence second in line to the British throne – caught flu and died. His grief-stricken parents, the future King Edward VII and Queen Consort Alexandra, commissioned Sir Alfred Gilbert to design bronze statues of saints to adorn his tomb in St George's Chapel, Windsor. The figures – of which, St George, England's patron saint, was the best known – were installed in 1895.

Gilbert, the premier English sculptor of the day controversially capitalised on the appeal of St George by accepting commissions to make copies for private clients. A very small number of these, in a variety of media and, at 50cm, the same size as the original, have survived. The bronze statue in the sale, however, is, at 90cms high, considerably larger. It was discovered by Bonhams specialists during a country house valuation. After extensive research Michael Lake, identified the work as a commission from John Charles (J.C.) Williams of Werrington Park, Launceston. Liberal Unionist MP for Truro in the early 1890s and a noted botanist, Williams ordered St George in 1895. It was apparently the first part of a commission for four double size figure replicas, but the other three representing the patron saints of Ireland, Scotland and Wales were apparently never realised.

Art critic and historian Richard Dorment, an authority on Gilbert who curated the exhibition, Alfred Gilbert: Sculptor and Goldsmith, at the Royal Academy of Arts in 1986 said: "This is an extraordinary statue and that rare thing, a fully documented Gilbert cast from the 1890s."

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