The great-great grandfather of the rightful owner of the lions commissioned the statues in the 19th century to be placed atop the entry gates of a house in Hertfordshire. The family later moved with the lions to Cornwall.
In 2000 the statues were stolen and went to ground until earlier this year when they were consigned to Dorset auction house Duke’s. A subsequent search via the Art Loss Register (ALR) database resulted in the lions being identified as the missing pair.
Guy Schwinge, partner at Duke’s, said: “We are delighted we were able to help restore these lions to their rightful owner.”
According to ALR, Duke’s client had bought the lions recently from a private vendor who in turn had acquired them within the last five years from a scrap metal dealer on the south coast. As the seller was unable to demonstrate good title the lions were returned.
The claimant expressed their delight in being reunited with a family heirloom while Antonia Kimbell, recoveries manager at ALR, said: “We’re really happy that a piece of family history has been returned. It’s another case on which we are proud to have worked where the personal importance of the objects greatly outweighs its financial value. No victim of theft should be denied the opportunity to recover their stolen property.”
A third lion was made with the pair in the 19th century for the (now closed) local public house, the Silver Lion in Lilley, Hertfordshire. This statue now stands on the village green.