Alfred Gilbert was commissioned to sculpt a memorial to Anthony Ashley-Cooper, seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, in 1886. The following five years saw him working through a number of ideas in an attempt to find a design that would best commemorate the charitable life of the Lord, one of the most respected men of his generation. Gilbert finally settled on an ornate fountain, surmounted by the winged figure of Anteros, the ancient Greek symbol of Selfless Love. The figure of the naked youth was modelled by Gilbert's fifteen-year old studio assistant, Angelo Colorossi, and his precariously balanced pose, with outstretched bow arm and extended opposing leg, recalled that of Renaissance predecessors, such as Giambologna's Mercury and Titian's Bacchus. More used to 'coat and trousers' statues of statesmen and generals, rather than metaphors for their virtues, when Gilbert's finished monument was unveiled at Piccadilly Circus in 1893 the public failed to comprehend the symbolism of Anteros, preferring instead to view him as Eros, god of Love, shooting an arrow of desire.
In 1901, a bankrupt and depressed Gilbert set about destroying many of his original plaster maquettes in his Maida Vale studio, in doing so ensuring that none could be cast in inferior editions by his creditors. Fortunately, among those plasters salvaged and reassembled by the sculptor Herbert Hampton (d. 1929), who subsequently bought Gilbert's house, was the original 1891 model for Eros. In 1925, building work on the Piccadilly Circus Underground station directly beneath the Eros monument necessitated its temporary move to the nearby Embankment Gardens. The associated publicity prompted Hampton - who had retained the repaired plaster sketch model - to approach George Clausen (d. 1944), director of the Chantrey Bequest, with the suggestion that a single bronze cast be taken from the plaster. Clausen wrote to Gilbert, then living near Rome, to seek his permission, and the resulting cast (now in the Tate Gallery) was taken by Gilbert's former founder, Alessandro Parlanti. So admired was the bronze that shortly afterwards Gilbert gave permission for a second cast to be taken (now in the Royal Academy).
In 1946, the first (Tate) cast of Eros was shown at the National Gallery as part of an exhibition of works belonging to the Chantrey Bequest. This renewed publicity for Eros gave the governors of Aldenham School, Elstree - Gilbert's alma mater - the idea for its War Memorial. Not only would the simple figure of an unarmed youth be a fitting tribute to the 107 Old Aldenhamians who fell in the recently ended Second World War, but it would also commemorate one of the school's most distinguished former pupils. At first reluctant to grant permission for a cast to be taken from the Tate bronze, the Trustees of the Tate Gallery and Chantrey Bequest, together with Stephen Gilbert, representing the late sculptor's family, eventually gave their assent. In doing so, they cited the fact that Gilbert had attended the school, and that the statuette was intended as part of its War Memorial, as justification for the exceptional departure from their usual policy where reproduction of sculptures in the national collection was concerned. The resulting cast - the present lot - was taken from the Tate bronze by the Fiorini foundry in Fulham, and its cost of £85 was paid for by an Old Aldenhamian. Placed on a pillar and located in a Garden of Remembrance in the school grounds, the statue was damaged in the 1960s and repaired by the local blacksmith, explaining the patched area on the lower left leg.
In 1978 the present bronze was stolen from Aldenham and did not re-surface until 1998. Since the school Governors had by this time persuaded the Tate Gallery to allow the Morris Singer foundry to cast a second replica of Eros, erected in 1985, it was agreed that this original cast from the Tate bronze could be freely sold, hence its auction at Sotheby's in 1999.