Grand entrance for a grand piano: George IV’s Tomkison piano returns home

A team of Royal Pavilion & Museums staff have worked tirelessly over the last couple of weeks to secure the funding that made it possible to acquire this extraordinary piano made for King George IV for the Royal Pavilion in c1821. Today it returned home and here are impressions of its arrival.

The piano was bought by the Royal Pavilion & Museums at auction on 6 April 2017. We would like to acknowledge the help of Martin Levy of Blairman’s in the acquisition, who kindly bid on our behalf at the auction. We are also grateful to Norman McSween and Luke Bradley for the help with the research in the history of this piano. The historic piece was secured after a successful bid of £62k was made using money from the Art Fund, Arts Council England/Victoria and Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund, The Leche Trust and the Royal Pavilion Foundation. On the same day Martin Levy organised its removal to temporary storage near London and we quickly made arrangements to bring this important and exciting object back to its original home. We are immensely pleased that the piano has now arrived safely in Brighton, just a few days after the auction. It will be temporarily displayed in the Music Room pending a decision as to its permanent location. We are hoping to display it in the Entrance Hall where it was shown in George IV’s day.

 

 

More information on the piano:

The piano was made by Thomas Tomkison and is the most celebrated of his surviving works. The maker’s flamboyant approach to case decoration clearly appealed to George’s Francophile and adventurous taste and was perfectly in keeping with the Royal Pavilion style. In a bill in the Royal Archives the piano is described as ‘An elegant rosewood grand piano inlaid with brass, the case highly polished, gilt mouldings, gilt turnbuckles and 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.

When the Pavilion was sold to Brighton in 1850, 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.

We carried out considerable research into the piano in preparation for the funding application and, now that it is back at the Pavilion, will look further into its history. The piano can be seen in a number of images of the 1820s, including this hand-coloured aquatint from John Nash’s Views of the Royal Pavilion at Brighton, published in 1826 (you can see the whole book here).

Entrance Hall of the Royal Pavilion in an aquatint from 1826. The Tomkison piano can be seen on the right.

We also have in our collection a preparatory drawing by Augustus Charles Pugin, who provided the detailed watercolours for the aquatints in Nash’s publication, that shows our piano. Only a couple of areas in this drawing are coloured in, including, coincidentally, the Tomkison piano (see detail of the drawing below).

A detail of A C Pugin’s drawing of the Entrance Hall, c1821

Alexandra Loske, Curator, Royal Pavilion Archives