The Art Fund has purchased a unique cabinet of jigsaw maps that once belonged to King George III’s children, which it has generously given to Historic Royal Palaces and the V&A Museum of Childhood. The cabinet and selected maps will first be displayed at Kew Palace, King George’s countryside retreat, when it reopens to the public on 24 March 2007.
Historic Royal Palaces lost out to a foreign buyer when the cabinet and jigsaw maps came up at auction in 2000. Culture minister David Lammy placed an export bar on the cabinet, and Historic Royal Palaces joined forces with the V&A Museum of Childhood to try and purchase the work. The Art Fund, keen to see the cabinet enjoyed by the public in Britain, stepped in, buying it outright for £120,000 and presenting it as a gift to Historic Royal Palaces and the V&A Museum of Childhood. They will now jointly share the display and ownership of the cabinet.
David Barrie, Director of The Art Fund, said:
“This extraordinary cabinet contains some of the earliest jigsaw maps in existence, showing us the world as it would have been seen by the young George IV. I am delighted that The Art Fund has been able to give it as a gift to Historic Royal Palaces and the V&A Museum of Childhood – it will surprise and delight generations of visitors, of all ages.”
The simple mahogany cabinet, dating from the mid-1700s, was made to hold a collection of dissected maps, the earliest precursors of the jigsaw puzzle. The cabinet and the sixteen maps belonged to the children of King George III and Queen Charlotte who were educated at Kew Palace for some of their childhood. It is likely that the future George IV and William IV used these maps when young princes. The cabinet and its contents were later passed to their governess Lady Charlotte Finch.
A note pinned inside the cabinet records its royal provenance and claims that Lady Charlotte Finch was "the inventor of dissecting maps ... always used in teaching Geography to George the fourth, his Brothers and sisters". The British Library have acclaimed the maps as exceptionally early examples of jigsaw maps, which were first produced for sale by the engraver John Spilsbury in the 1760s. Some of Spilsbury’s dissected maps are included in this collection, as well as others hand-drawn by Lady Charlotte or the royal children.
Sebastian Edwards, curator at Historic Royal Palaces, said:
"It is wonderful to see these little pieces of history returning to Kew, where we imagine the royal children and their beloved governess would have played and learned from them. Picture the young future rulers using them to grasp the scope of their ever-expanding empire. Historic Royal Palaces and our partners at the Museum of Childhood owe many thanks to all those who helped save them for the nation."
Diane Lees, Director, at the V&A Museum of Childhood, said:
The V&A Museum of Childhood is delighted to acquire Lady Charlotte Finch's puzzle cabinet with the Historic Royal Palaces, courtesy of The Art Fund. These dissected puzzles are unique and pre-date any currently in the Museum's collection. Together with the cabinet that has always housed them, they are a significant and welcome acquisition.
The cabinet will appear on display in the Breakfast Room at Kew Palace alongside other historic objects relating to royal childhood and education at Kew including the Kew “Baby House” (doll’s house) that once belonged to King George III’s daughters. This acquisition is a second cause for celebration at the palace this year, as it is also celebrating being longlisted for the Gulbenkian Prize for Museums and Galleries 2007.