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The move comes eight years after the collection, gifted to the nation by the late Sir Arthur Gilbert, first opened to the public. With it goes the £10m endowment made by the Heritage Lottery Fund to maintain the collection of 800 objects.

Sir Arthur and his wife Rosalinde started collecting in the 1960s and gradually built the most comprehensive collection of micromosaics ever formed, a magnificent range of gold and silver from the 15th to 19th centuries – particularly decorative gold boxes – and a fine display of portrait miniatures.

Although the reason for the move is not clear, such a classic collection would fit more comfortably within the decorative arts profile of the V&A. It has attracted more than 500,000 visitors at Somerset House since May 2000; but compare this with the 400,000 who have booked to see the Terracotta Army exhibition at the British Museum since mid-September and it hasn’t had the blockbuster appeal some may have hoped for. The V&A’s trustees “believe that the move to South Kensington will allow [it] to meet its full potential”.

Its departure clears the decks for Somerset House to create a new display which is yet to be announced.