Acquisitions Museums United Kingdom

Napoleonic cabinet secured by V&A

The rare display for ceremonial medals was saved from export through a £534,000 fundraising campaign

Medal cabinet in the Egyptian taste, about 1810, Paris, after a design attributed to Charles Percier (1764-1813). Photo: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

A Napoleonic medal cabinet has been saved from export from the UK after a successful fundraising campaign to buy it for the permanent collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London.

In January, on the recommendation of a reviewing committee administered by Arts Council England, the British government decided to defer granting an export licence for the cabinet until July, allowing the V&A time to raise the required sum of £534,000. The fate of the early 19th-century piece, a fine example in silver-mounted amboyna and mahogany of the Egyptian taste of the period, was secured by generous donations from the Art Fund, among others.

In its announcement of the temporary export bar earlier this year, Arts Council England described the work as “of such supreme quality that it is very likely to have been made for someone close to the imperial court, or even for a member of Napoleon’s family”. According to the provenance information published by Arts Council, the cabinet was probably acquired by the 5th Lord Monson in the 1830s and moved with the family through the generations until it was sold from the Manor House at South Carlton, Lincolnshire last year.

Christopher Wilk, the keeper of Furniture, Textiles and Fashion at the V&A said: “We are delighted to have secured this rare and remarkable object for the national collections. Not only is an exquisite and important example of French Empire furniture, it helps us to tell the story of power in 19th century Europe. It’s also particularly timely to have successfully acquired this Napoleonic cabinet as the UK prepares to mark the 200th anniversary of Waterloo in 2015. We are hugely grateful to the Art Fund and the other generous organisations and individuals who have helped us keep this fine object in the country”.

The cabinet will be displayed in the V&A’s new Europe 1600-1800 galleries when they open next spring. It is on view in the Whiteley Silver Galleries until the end of August.

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