Press release

UK risks losing rare watercolour of destroyed Henry VIII castle

The earliest depiction of Nonsuch Palace is at risk of being exported from the UK unless a buyer can be found.

Nonsuch Palace
Nonsuch Palace

The earliest depiction of Nonsuch Palace is at risk of being exported from the UK unless a buyer can be found to match the asking price of £1,000,000. Culture Minister Ed Vaizey has placed a temporary export bar on Nonsuch Palace from the South by Joris Hoefnagel in case a buyer can come forward to keep it in the UK.

Henry VIII’s Nonsuch Palace in Surrey is considered one of the Renaissance period’s most stunning buildings. Built in 1538 to mark Henry VIII’s 30th year on the throne and the birth of his son Edward, the palace aimed to rival the opulent residences of the French king Francis I.

Flemish artist Joris Hoefnagel’s watercolour is the oldest of only six remaining depictions of the palace. He painted the view of Nonsuch during his visit to England in 1568, detailing the decoration of the palace’s elaborate South Front.

Nonsuch remained a royal palace until 1670, when Charles II gave it to his mistress Barbara Villiers, who began to dismantle and sell parts of the building to pay off her gambling debts. By 1690 the building had all but disappeared.

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey said:

This watercolour has been in the UK for 400 years. We have very few paintings of the stunning Nonsuch Palace so I really hope we can find a buyer to keep this masterpiece here in Britain.

The decision to defer the export licence follows 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 of its close association with our history and national life, its outstanding aesthetic importance and its outstanding significance for understanding the nature of English Renaissance architecture, particularly as Nonsuch Palace no longer exists.

RCEWA member Peter Barber said:

British institutions have a chance to acquire a beautiful object that is of enormous significance for English culture and history. Though drawn after Henry VIII’s death, this exquisite watercolour is redolent of England’s best-known King. It is the most accurate depiction of the palace through which Henry sought to immortalise his reign and emphasise his role as a Renaissance prince and a leader of European fashion. Uniquely it shows details of the external decorations, of which only a few battered fragments now survive, that made Nonsuch, as its name suggests, a wonder of its age, an expression of Tudor pride and power and later a favourite residence of Elizabeth I.

The decision on the export licence application for the watercolour will be deferred until 31 May 2016. This may be extended until 31 August 2016 if a serious intention to raise funds to purchase the watercolour is made at the recommended price of £1,000,000.

Organisations or individuals interested in purchasing the watercolour should contact RCEWA on 0845 300 6200.

An image of the watercolour can be downloaded here.

For media information contact: Francesca Roettger Moreda Communications Officer Department for Culture Media and Sport Tel: 0207 211 6263 Email:

Published 1 March 2016