Pounds 1.6m rights to statue of Eros sold for pounds 20,000: London landmark 2: The V&A admits to an expensive blunder, writes Jason Bennetto

EXCLUSIVE rights to make 10 copies of the statue of Eros in Piccadilly Circus - together worth pounds 1.6m - were sold for about pounds 20,000 in an undisclosed deal by the head of the sculpture department at the Victoria & Albert Museum. The arrangement was made in 1986, but was not discovered until last year by the V&A management, who now concede that it was a major financial blunder.

Anthony Radcliffe, keeper of sculpture at the V&A from 1979 to 1989, agreedthe deal with a firm of art dealers and four private collectors without consulting or informing his superiors. There is no suggestion that he received any financial gain from it or acted unlawfully. That the V&A only recently discovered the deal suggests a lack of monitoring.

The loss of extra money is alarming for the V&A, a national museum, because it is in financial difficulties and needs more than pounds 200m for restoration and repair.

The deal was made before a Royal Academy exhibition in March 1986 of the work of Alfred Gilbert, who sculpted the 9ft-tall, aluminium Eros, erected in 1893.

John Lewis, a private collector, and the Fine Art Society commercial gallery paid about pounds 20,000 to have the original plaster moulds of Eros restored. Three other private collectors each gave about pounds 10,000 towards the Gilbert exhibition. In return, Mr Radcliffe, in a letter which says he is writing on behalf of the V&A, agreed to allow each of the collectors to take one cast from the Eros moulds and the Fine Art Society to take six. No other casts could be taken for 20 years.

The society has so far sold four statues, at pounds 160,000 each. One is in an office block in London, one in the United States, another in Australia and one is destined for Japan. The society has not revealed the cost of making each statue, but estimates vary from pounds 30,000 to pounds 60,000.

Sir Roy Strong, director of the V&A in 1986, who resigned in 1987, said: 'I'm horrified - this is the first I have heard of the matter. There would have been a flaming row if I had heard about it while I was director.'

The deal has also confounded the National Museum and Galleries on Merseyside, which owns a second Eros, sculpted by Gilbert and erected in Sefton Park, Liverpool, in the 1930s. Pollution and vandalism have reduced it to a corroded wreck, so John Larson, head of sculpture conservation at the museum, asked the V&A about making a new cast. He was told he would have to buy one from the Fine Art Society.

'The society said we could have a pounds 20,000 discount,' Mr Larson said, 'but the city council cannot afford pounds 140,000. We are talking about a national monument. I don't see how a private organisation can buy rights into something owned by the nation.' Liverpool's Eros will now probably be restored and kept in a museum. A replica will be made from it.

Paul Williamson, curator of sculpture at the V&A, confirmed that the museum only became aware of the 1986 contract last year. An internal inquiry was held, but no action was considered necessary. He said: 'We would certainly do things differently today. It was perhaps the action of someone who was not very experienced, but thought they were doing the best for the museum.' Privately, V&A management describe the affair as a 'total screw-up'.

Peyton Skipwith, deputy managing director of the Fine Art Society, said: 'Hindsight is a great thing. At the time it was a gamble; it was certainly not a licence to print money.' John Lewis said: 'At the time there was no one willing to put money into restoration. Museums were for learning - it's only recently they've become commercial animals.' Mr Radcliffe, now a researcher in the V&A department of sculpture, was not available for comment.

The high price of Eros replicas could also influence the fate of the monument in London currently being repaired after two revellers damaged the legs. The cost of restoration is estimated at pounds 30,000. This is the seventh time the statue has needed such work. Many restorers now believe it should be put in a museum but Westminister City Council is determined to put the original back on its perch.

Gilbert designed the statue as a memorial to the seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, the Victorian philanthropist. However, it is not of Eros, the god of sexual love, but of his younger brother, Anteros, who represents selfless love.

(Photograph omitted)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Savvy Media Ltd: Media Sales executive - Crawley

£25k + commission + benefits: Savvy Media Ltd: Find a job you love and never h...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Solicitor NQ+ Oxford

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CORPORATE - Corporate Solicitor NQ+ An excelle...

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible