The apparently unique cast from 1895 made 10-times its estimate at the Fine Design 1200-1900 sale in London on December 16, selling at £1m (£1.22m including buyer’s premium).
The bronze, discovered by Bonhams specialists during a country house valuation, is a close variant of Gilbert’s design for the statue of St George commissioned for the tomb of the Duke of Clarence in St George’s Chapel.
Gilbert, the premier English sculptor of the day, controversially capitalised on the appeal of the model by accepting commissions to make copies for private clients. A very small number of these in a variety of media have survived, each measuring 20in (50cm). Bonhams’ bronze, however, is 3ft (90cm) high.
Research by head of European sculpture and works of art Michael Lake identified the work as a commission from John Charles Williams of Werrington Park, Launceston, in 1895 (the year the original was installed at Windsor Castle).
Liberal Unionist MP for Truro in the early 1890s and a noted botanist, Williams hoped to own four double-size replica figures, but the other three representing the patron saints of Ireland, Scotland and Wales were never realised.
“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,” said Lake.
The previous high for Gilbert was one of the 10 Morris Singer Foundry casts of Anteros from 1987 – the figure atop the Shaftesbury Memorial in Piccadilly Circus. Those were commissioned by The Fine Art Society following the rediscovery of the original plaster moulds in 1984. Number 5 in the series sold for £210,000 at Sotheby’s in 2019.