LORD Ashcroft’s Victoria Cross collection – the largest in the world – is to go on public display following his £5m donation to the Imperial War Museum. The news comes as the museum has also received a donation from the Art Fund to purchase an important watercolur by Keith Vaughan (1912-1977) at auction.
The Lord Ashcroft Gallery, due to open in the autumn of 2010,
will mark the first time that the 152 medals have been publicly
The Victoria Cross, which was first awarded in 1856 during the
Crimean War, is Britain's premier award for extreme gallantry in
the face of the enemy. Of the 1357 ever awarded (all of them to
men), only 13 have been granted since the end of the Second World
Lord Ashcroft bought his first VC in 1986, thinking it would be
a one-off purchase, but it quickly developed into a passion. He
established the Michael A Ashcroft Trust to care for the medals,
and today it owns over a tenth of VCs ever awarded.
"The new gallery is the result of my fascination with bravery,
in general, and the Victoria Cross, in particular, which go back to
my childhood," said Lord Ashcroft. "My passion for the VC stems
from the fact that it can be won by someone regardless of class,
colour, religion, creed or rank - provided they exhibit truly
exceptional courage in the face of the enemy."
Collectively, Lord Ashcroft's VCs are worth several millions of
pounds, but Queen Victoria never intended the medals to have any
intrinsic value. The first was struck from a Russian cannon and
they are now fashioned in bronze and hang from a plain crimson
ribbon. Their simple decoration features a lion passant atop a
crown, with the recipient's name and the date for the act of
bravery on the reverse.
The Imperial War Museum currently owns 50 VCs and 29 George
Crosses, and these will be displayed alongside Lord Ashcroft's
collection in a state-of-the-art space on the top floor.
The gallery will explore the creation of the medals and the
personal stories behind the award, such as that of Lieutenant
William Leefe Robinson, who received a VC after shooting down the
first Zeppelin over British soil during the First World War.
Meanwhile, thanks to the grant from The Art Fund, the Keith
Vaughan watercolour with black ink and coloured crayon entitled
The Echo of the Bombardment will also become a key part of
the Imperial War Museum's collection.
The 12 1/2in x 18 1/4in (32 x 46cm) work, signed and dated 1942,
was from a series of Vaughan's drawings and gouaches illustrating
the devastation of The Blitz entitled Destruction of the Human
It was offered at Christie's South Kensington
on July 16 in the 20th Century British Art sale with a
£10,000-15,000 estimate but, according to The Art Fund, a number of
private bidders had indicated they would step aside if the museum
The IWM have been collecting Vaughan's works for 20 years, and
were able to secure this one at £34,580, including premium, which
was fully covered by the charity grant.
By Stephanie Harris