The department of culture, media and sport issued the export bar following recommendations by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA).
The RCEWA made its recommendation on the grounds of the sculpture’s outstanding significance to the study of Gilbert, whose works include the Shaftesbury Memorial (better known as Eros) at Piccadilly Circus and a tomb to Prince Edward, Duke of Clarence, in St George’s Chapel, Windsor.
RCEWA member Lowell Libson said: “This monumental portrait bust of the Queen-Empress is not only an important icon made at the apogee of British power but a complex and hugely sympathetic image. It is also a tour de force of marble carving, a medium which Gilbert rarely employed.”
The bust was commissioned in 1887 by the Army and Navy Club to celebrate the golden jubilee of Victoria’s coronation in 1837, which was also the year the club had been founded. It was based on a full-length bronze statue of the queen, which Gilbert had produced in 1887. It is understand the bust was sold recently and the new owner applied for an export licence to take it overseas.
A decision on the export licence application will be deferred until December 7, which could be extended until April next year if a serious intention to raise funds to purchase it is made at the recommended price of £1.2m.
Arts minister John Glen said offers from public bodies for less than the recommended price through the private treaty sale arrangements could be considered.