The medal cabinet is a fascinating object, and a rare example of exquisite Empire furniture in Britain. Made from amboyna and mahogany, with finely engraved silver mounts, it is of an extraordinarily refined design and has been crafted with the utmost skill and finesse. The cabinet is an excellent example of the impact that Ancient Egypt had on French design, and indeed on design all over Europe, including Britain. The cabinet is 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.
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey took the decision to defer granting an export licence for the cabinet following a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA), administered by Arts Council England. The RCEWA made their recommendation on the grounds that it was of was of outstanding aesthetic importance; and that it was of outstanding significance for the study of the history of design, particularly the popularity of the ‘Egyptian Revival’ and the influence of archaeology in the decorative arts during the Empire period.
Medal cabinets have been an important furniture type since the 16th century, but enjoyed renewed popularity during Napoleon’s rule, both as a result of the increased interest in ancient civilizations and of Napoleon’s own passion for medals – during his reign the Emperor had a new series of commemorative medals struck to celebrate his major achievements, including the conquest of Egypt. They are therefore important in their own right as pieces of furniture, but also for what they can tell us about the history of collecting.
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey said: “This beautifully crafted cabinet is of outstanding importance to the history of design, and I hope the export bar I’ve placed on it will allow time for a UK buyer to come forward and save it for the nation.”
Simon Swynfen Jervis from the RCEWA said:“This enchanting cabinet combines the architectural presence of an Egyptian pylon with silver details of consummate precision and wit: it is the very quintessence of the French Egyptian revival which was inspired by Napoleon’s short-lived conquest of Egypt.”
The decision on the export licence application for the cabinet will be deferred for a period ending on 28 March 2014 inclusive. This period may be extended until 28 July 2014 inclusive if a serious intention to raise funds to purchase the cabinet is made at the recommended price of £534,000 (plus VAT which could be reclaimed by an eligible institution).
An image of the work can be downloaded from http://www.flickr.com/photos/thedcms/12203880024/
Notes to editors
1. Organisations or individuals interested in purchasing the cabinet should contact RCEWA on 0845 300 6200.
2. Details of the cabinet are as follows:
A silver-mounted and inlaid amboyna (possibly thuya) and mahogany medal cabinet, in the gout d’Egypte style
c. 1810 – 1814
112cm high, 62cm wide at widest, 41.5cm deep (with pedestal)
3. The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest is an independent body, serviced by Arts Council England, which advises the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on whether a cultural object, intended for export, is of national importance under specified criteria.
4. Arts Council England champions, develops and invests in artistic and cultural experiences that enrich people’s lives. Between 2010 and 2015, it will invest £1.9 billion of public money from government and an estimated £1.1 billion from the National Lottery to help create these experiences for as many people as possible across the country. www.artscouncil.org.uk