Lock of Napoleon's hair brought back to Soane Museum

PUBLISHED: 10:46 12 November 2009 | UPDATED: 16:32 07 September 2010

Sir John Soane s Museum in London and independent charity The Art Fund have announced the return of a lost treasure to the Lincoln s Inn Fields museum – a gold mourning ring containing a lock of Napoleon s hair, one of Sir John Soane s prized possessions.

Sir John Soane's Museum in London and independent charity The Art Fund have announced the return of a lost treasure to the Lincoln's Inn Fields museum - a gold mourning ring containing a lock of Napoleon's hair, one of Sir John Soane's prized possessions. This acquisition is a triumph for the Museum, which was unable to acquire the ring at auction earlier this year.

The mourning ring originally belonged to Sir John Soane, celebrated architect and founder of the eponymous Museum, founded in 1833. It was one of his most treasured private possessions, but was not left to his Museum, featuring on his will among other items to be kept "as heir looms in my family".

However, it eventually passed out of the family's ownership and was deemed 'lost'. This autumn, thanks to a £30,000 grant from The Art Fund and support from Soane enthusiasts, the museum reclaimed this lost treasure for a total of £41,000 and returned it to its original home.

Tim Knox, Director of Sir John Soane's Museum said: "Soane had a horrible fascination with Napoleon and this ring, with its plait of the vanquished Emperor's hair, was the ultimate trophy. We are thrilled to get it back to its old home."

Andrew Macdonald, Acting Director of The Art Fund, said: "This unique relic offers an insight into the cult status of Napoleon at Sir John Soane's time, as well as the tastes and obsessions of Soane himself. The Art Fund is delighted to help bring home this forgotten treasure to the Sir John Soane's Museum where visitors will be able to see it in its true context."

Frank Dobson, MP for Holborn & St Pancras, said: "The Sir John Soane's Museum is one of Holborn's hidden gems, and it is wonderful news its fantastic collections have been enriched with this curious and very special acquisition. We extend a big thank you to The Art Fund and Soane enthusiasts for making the acquisition possible."

Soane was fascinated by Napoleon. The lock of hair contained in the ring was presented to Sir John by Elizabeth (Betsy) Balcombe who was the daughter of an official on St Helena where Napoleon was imprisoned. As a child, Betsy became a favourite of the Emperor and she later wrote memoirs of their friendship.

Visitors to the Museum will be able to view this distinctive jewel when it goes on display later in November.

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