Strawberry Hill on the hunt for lost Walpole treasures
Any works found could go to the 18th-century writer’s restored neo-gothic mansion in west London
By Martin Bailey. News, Issue 209, January 2010
Published online: 06 January 2010
london. Strawberry Hill is launching a “treasure hunt” to track down artworks from Horace Walpole’s neo-gothic mansion by the river Thames. The house in Twickenham, west London, will open to the public next year following an £9m restoration. An exhibition on Strawberry Hill is currently at the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, Connecticut, and comes to London in March when it opens at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A).
Historian and writer Horace Walpole (1717-97), the son of Britain’s first prime minister Sir Robert Walpole and the author of arguably the first gothic novel The Castle of Otranto (1764), set about transforming his modest summer cottage into a gothic-revival temple of the arts. In 1750, he wrote that “I am going to build a little gothic castle at Strawberry Hill.” Walpole later said that “my buildings are paper, like my writings, and both will blow away in ten years after I am dead”. Fortunately, Strawberry Hill’s innovative architecture survived.
Most of his enormous art collection remained there following his death, but it was dispersed by his heir in a 24-day auction in 1842. His artworks were remarkably well recorded, since in addition to the auction catalogue, he had published a detailed description of them in 1784. They included paintings, miniatures, sculpture, furniture, ceramics, glassware, arms, historical relics and manuscripts.
The Strawberry Hill Trust, which is restoring the house, is anxious to track down objects from Walpole’s collection, with a view to recording them and possibly borrowing them (or even purchasing them). Readers with information are invited to contact either Strawberry Hill Trust chairman Michael Snodin (a senior research fellow at the V&A and curator of the Walpole exhibition) or The Art Newspaper.
Some of the most important items the trust is searching for
1. A Roman funerary urn: The Roman urn appears below the window in a 1750s drawing of Walpole in his library by Johann Müntz. Its triangular top decoration has a tripod relief, supported by griffins.
2. Mirror with portrait of Viscount Malpas: There were two mirrors, and the lost mirror has a circular painting of Viscount Malpas. The Gothic mirror, with an ebonised wood frame, was sold in 1842 to Mrs Dawson Damer. Another mirror depicting the Earl of Orford survives (pictured, it was accepted in lieu of inheritance tax last year and will be displayed at Strawberry Hill).
3. Ornate Turkish dagger: The ornate dagger was reputed to have belonged to Henry VIII. In 1842 it was bought by actor Charles Kean, who is said to have used it on the stage. It was sold at Christie’s in 1898 to someone named as Haigham. It is depicted in a late 18th-century watercolour.
4. Gothic dining table Commissioned by Walpole in 1754, the top is of Sicilian jasper (6 x 3 feet), with the frame in black. An early 19th-century drawing of it survives. The ornately decorated table was last recorded in 1953, when it was owned by antiquarian Harry Bradfer-Lawrence, of Ripon, Yorkshire, who died in 1965.
5. Basalt Bust of Vespasian: The colossal basalt bust had been in 10 Downing Street and was later put on display at Strawberry Hill. It is depicted in a watercolour view of Horace Walpole’s gallery. The bust was last recorded at Christie’s in 1893, after leaving the Hamilton Palace collection.
Horace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill runs at the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven until 3 January. It will then be at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, from 6 March to 4 July. The Strawberry Hill house opens in September
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