7 April 2017

Party Prince's piano returns to the palace

Brighton & Hove’s Royal Pavilion & Museums Foundation has supported the purchase of King George IV’s only surviving grand piano at auction.  The historic piece was secured after a successful bid of £62k was made using money from Art Fund, Arts Council England/Victoria and Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund, The Leche Trust and the Royal Pavilion Foundation. The piano could be on display at the Royal Pavilion as early as the Easter weekend 2017.

The piano, commissioned for the Royal Pavilion by George IV in c.1821, was made by Thomas Tomkison and is the most celebrated of Tomkison’s surviving works. The maker’s flamboyant approach to case decoration is thought to have appealed to George’s Francophile and adventurous taste. The piano, described as an elegant, rosewood grand, is extravagantly decorated, inlaid with brass, gilt mouldings, and gilt turnbuckles and has elegantly carved legs.

At a cost of £236 5/- the piano was well over twice the cost of a standard top quality English grand piano at the time. Accounts reveal that Tomkison supplied other ‘extra elegant’ pianos to the Prince Regent, but no others are known to have survived.

The piano can be clearly seen in situ in the entrance hall of the Royal Pavilion in a watercolour detail by Augustus Charles Pugin. See above.

Commenting on the acquisition, the Chair of Brighton & Hove’s economic development and culture committee Cllr Alan Robins said: “Prince Regent’s piano has long been on a wish list of desirable assets for the Royal Pavilion and so we’re thrilled to be bringing it back to its rightful home.  This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to acquire it for a public collection so we’re over the moon to have secured it for the benefit of the city and our visitors. 

“The piano is playable but as it’s been dormant for 20 years will need some restoration.  It would be amazing to be able to hear music of the period played on it.”

When the Pavilion was sold to Brighton, Queen Victoria stripped it of its contents which were taken to other royal palaces. When it became clear that the Pavilion was not going to be demolished, Queen Victoria started returning fixtures and fittings. This process has continued under successive monarchs.  Occasionally items are acquired which have by various means left the Royal Collection. These are acquired whenever resources allow by gift or purchase. It is not known when the Tomkison piano left the Royal Collection. It is possible it was sold or disposed of by Queen Victoria because there is some evidence it may have been at Windsor Castle in the 1840s.

More information

About Thomas Tomkison

Thomas Tomkison (c1764-1853) was one of the foremost piano makers of the late 18th and early 19th century. His fame was such that he attracted the patronage of George Prince of Wales. In 1813 he acquired a Royal warrant. In his own lifetime he was regarded as one of the founders of the piano building industry. He made a substantial fortune and amassed a considerable art collection, including works by Turner, a personal friend.

About Art Fund

Art Fund is the national fundraising charity for art. In the past five years alone Art Fund has given £34 million to help museums and galleries acquire works of art for their collections. It also helps museums share their collections with wider audiences by supporting a range of tours and exhibitions, and makes additional grants to support the training and professional development of curators. Art Fund is independently funded, with the core of its income provided by 123,000 members who receive the National Art Pass and enjoy free entry to over 240 museums, galleries and historic places across the UK, as well as 50% off entry to major exhibitions and subscription to Art Quarterly magazine. In addition to grant-giving, Art Fund’s support for museums includes Art Fund Museum of the Year (won by the V&A, London, in 2016) and a range of digital platforms. www.artfund.org

The Arts Council England/Victoria and Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund

The Arts Council England/Victoria and Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund is a government fund that helps regional museums, record offices and specialist libraries in England and Wales to acquire objects relating to the arts, literature and history.

It was established at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in 1881 and continues to be part of its nationwide work.

The annual grants budget, currently £750,000, is provided by Arts Council England (ACE).

Each year, the Purchase Grant Fund considers some 200 applications and awards grants to around 100 organisations, enabling acquisitions of over £3 million to go ahead.  www.vam.ac.uk/purchasegrantfund  

*This acquisition was made through Martin Levy of Blairman's.