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Queen Victoria sculpture

Sir Alfred Gilbert's little known masterpiece – a virtuoso monumental white marble bust of Queen Victoria as an ageing monarch – has been saved for the nation after the Fitzwilliam Museum raised the necessary £1,077,607 to prevent it being exported to a museum in New York.

This majestic marble monolith is arguably the most impressive and sensitive portrait ever made of the iconic and oft-portrayed Queen-Empress, without doubt one of the most important women in British history. It is a pivotal work in the development of British sculpture at the end of the nineteenth century and is entirely carved by Gilbert; the most talented and idiosyncratic sculptor of Victorian Britain. It is the only surviving marble by Gilbert in the UK.

The Fitzwilliam devoted the recent Hartley-Johnson Bequest to this acquisition of international significance along with gifts from individual benefactors. The shortfall was generously met by a grant of £267,607 from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF). This breath taking bust will now join the distinguished permanent sculpture collection of the Fitzwilliam Museum. Installed on Wednesday 20 June, to coincide with Queen Victoria’s 181st anniversary of her accession (20 June 1837), it represents the final acquisition made by former Director Tim Knox, before his departure to head up the Royal Collection.