Press release: Collection of drawings which helped develop the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew at risk of leaving the UK

Board Of Trustees Of The Royal Botanic Gardens Kew

July 12
13:32 2023

  • 38 original drawings of flowers by Simon Taylor played vital part in development of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
  • Collection provides a unique record of what was growing in British gardens, especially Kew, undocumented elsewhere
  • Export bar decision follows independent advice of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest

A collection of 18th-century drawings by botanical artist Simon Taylor (1742-1796) valued at 17,640 is at risk of leaving the UK unless a domestic buyer is found.

Arts and Heritage Minister Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay has placed an export bar on the collection of 38 original drawings of flowers in the hope they can remain in the UK for public study and education.

The ministers decision follows the independent advice of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest.

The collection of original drawings was highly significant in helping John Stuart, third Earl of Bute (1713-92), in the development of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, which he helped transform into a national botanic garden of international repute for Princess Augusta.

Watercolours by Simon Taylor

The drawings are a significant record of the plants in the garden prior to the involvement of Joseph Banks who became Kews first unofficial director in 1768.

They are significant for their aesthetic value, scientific accuracy and provide a unique record of what was growing in British gardens, especially Kew, undocumented elsewhere.The expert committee found the botanical drawings are of outstanding significance in the branches of horticultural, artistic and scientific history.

This assessment was based on the Waverley Criteria, established in 1952 to decide on works of art and cultural objects which deserve efforts to keep them in the country.

Arts and Heritage Minister Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay said:

This collection of watercolour drawings by Simon Taylor commissioned by the botanist and Prime Minister Lord Bute helped to sow the seeds for the wonderful Royal Botanic Garden at Kew.

From its earliest days, Kew was a leading hub of research and education. This collection is a significant record of its eighteenth-century origins and what could be found there before it became the garden we know and cherish today.

I sincerely hope that a UK buyer comes forward to save this incredible collection so that the public can continue to learn from and admire it.

Committee Member Peter Barber said:

The Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew are universally recognised as one of this countrys greatest glories. They were the fruit of a partnership between George IIIs 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.

Taylors 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 Committee made its recommendation on the basis that the drawings meet the first and third Waverley criteria for their outstanding connection with our history and national life and their outstanding significance to the study of history of development of botany in the UK and at Kew Gardens in particular.

The decision on the export licence application for the drawings will be deferred for a period ending on 11 September 2023. At the end of the first deferral period owners will have a consideration period of 15 Business Days to consider any offer(s) to purchase the drawings at the recommended price of 17,640. The second deferral period will commence following the signing of an Option Agreement and will last for three months.

Offers from public bodies for less than the recommended price through the private treaty sale arrangements, where appropriate, may also be considered by the Minister. Such purchases frequently offer substantial financial benefit to a public institution wishing to acquire the item.

Notes to editors:

  1. In December 2022, Lord Parkinson discussed the Waverley criteria in a speech to mark their 70th anniversary, and used the opportunity to invite thoughts on the way they work for instance, whether the Committee should say more about how it has considered items connection to the history of other countries as well as to the UKs, or whether the items it considers are destined for public display rather than private collection. [Read his full speech] (

  2. Organisations or individuals interested in purchasing the drawings should contact the RCEWA on 0161 934 4317.

  3. Details of the drawings are as follows: One folio volume (607 x 450 mm) containing 38 watercolours on vellum, unsigned and undated. Latin binomial names of the plant subjects neatly written on each painting in ink. Contemporary binding in red Morocco gilt, with arms of John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute. Spine title reads Plants by Taylor. Vol. XIII.

  4. Provenance: John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute (1712-1792). His executors sale of the Bute Library, Leigh and Sotheby, 8 May 1794, lot 1246. The Library Collection of Henry Rogers Boughton, 2nd Baron Fairhaven (1900-1973) established by him between 1927 and 1960, United Kingdom. Thence by descent to the current owner.

  5. The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest is an independent body, serviced by Arts Council England (ACE), 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.

  6. Arts Council England is the national development agency for creativity and culture. Its strategic vision in Lets Create is that, by 2030, England should be a country in which the creativity of everyone is valued and given the chance to flourish and where everyone has access to a remarkable range of high-quality cultural experiences. ACE invests public money from the government and the National Lottery to support the sector and deliver the vision. Following the Covid-19 crisis, ACE developed a 160 million Emergency Response Package, with nearly 90 per cent coming from the National Lottery, for organisations and individuals needing support. It is also one of the bodies administering the governments unprecedented Culture Rec

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