The 38 original drawings of flowers by Simon Taylor (1742-96) were sold at auction at Sotheby’s on November 29, 2022 and subsequently an export licence was applied for.
However, this has temporarily been blocked while UK museums are given a chance to match the £17,640 price tag (the buyer’s premium inclusive price).
Arts and heritage minister Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay placed the export bar on the collection in the hope they can remain in the UK for public study and education. The decision follows the independent advice of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest.
Committee member Peter Barber said: “The Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew are universally recognised as one of this country’s greatest glories. They were the fruit of a partnership between George III’s mother, Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, Dowager Princess of Wales, and his tutor and later prime minister, John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute.
“But very little survives to show what plants were originally to be found in the gardens. An opportunity has now arisen to save some precious depictions of these plants for the nation.
“Taylor’s 38 finely executed watercolours, commissioned by Lord Bute, are much more than merely pretty pictures. Part of a now dispersed collection of 15 volumes containing nearly 700 paintings, they have the potential to add significantly to our knowledge of Kew in its earliest days.
“I hope they can find a home in this country where they can most easily and appropriately be studied and enjoyed, and perhaps be joined in the future by more volumes, or at least watercolours, as they emerge.”
The drawings are a significant record of the plants in the garden prior to the involvement of Joseph Banks who became Kew’s first unofficial director in 1768.
The volume was with Lord Bute until his death and sold at Sotheby’s on May 8, 1794. It was then in the Library Collection of Henry Rogers Boughton, 2nd Baron Fairhaven (1900-73), from where it was sold by Sotheby’s last year.
The decision on the export licence application for the drawings will be deferred until September 11.