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Unique portrait of pioneer nurse Mary Seacole saved for nation

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A portrait of the pioneering nurse Mary Seacole has been bought for the nation by National Portrait Gallery.

The only known painting of Mary Seacole, the famous black Victorian nurse regarded as one of the most significant figures to emerge from the Crimean War, is to remain at the National Portrait Gallery thanks to a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £96,200.

The portrait by the artist Albert Challen was discovered in July 2003 after being purchased at a boot sale. It was concealed behind a framed print and then spotted by an eagle eyed art dealer who noticed an inscription on the back by the artist. He unsealed the frame and sold the picture at an auction.

Painted by Mr Challen in 1869, the portrait shows Ms Seacole wearing the three medals which she was awarded for her service. It has been on loan to the gallery since 2004 and will now be on permanent public display in Room 23.

Sandy Nairne, Director of the National Portrait Gallery, said: ‘Mary Seacole is an inspiring figure and I am delighted that this painted portrait can now join the National Portrait Gallery Collection.’

Born in Jamaica, Ms Seacole was a nurse, adventurer and writer whose bravery, compassion and determination mark her as an exceptional figure in Victorian society. With no formal training, she overcame both racial and gender restrictions to establish herself as a notable humanitarian whose hands-on approach to nursing has become an inspiration to nurses today.

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