The Ladies Waldegrave by Sir Joshua Reynolds
A unique opportunity to view Horace Walpole’s astonishing collection of arts, antiquities and curiosities as visitors to the gothic mansion would have seen them during his lifetime
Horace Walpole (1717–97), the son of the first Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole, was a Whig MP, art historian and aesthetic rebel. He also wrote The Castle of Otranto (1764), the novel that inspired the supernatural genre and established many plot devices, such as secret passages and doors closing by themselves, which are still so familiar today.
Strawberry Hill House and Garden
Walpole took up residence at Strawberry Hill House in 1747 and, over the next 50 years, he re-designed and re-built the riverside property, adding its distinctive whitewashed exterior and an array of architectural features, including crenellations, arches, turrets and vaulting. The ‘little gothic castle’ became a suitably exotic gallery for his extraordinarily eclectic collection of art, antiquities and curiosities.
After Walpole’s death, however, the house and its precious contents (over 4000 items not counting several thousand prints, drawings and coins) were sold at an auction lasting 24 days by his heir, the 7th Earl of Waldegrave, and were scattered around the globe. It’s all the more exciting then that, for the first time in over 170 years, many of Walpole’s remarkable pieces have now been re-united in a new exhibition – The Lost Treasures of Strawberry Hill – at their home on the banks of the Thames.
Over the past three years the team of curators at Strawberry Hill has been scouring private collections and public museums worldwide, assiduously tracking down those ‘lost treasures’ using Walpole’s own detailed descriptions and the sales catalogue from the auction. The result is that 50 lenders have agreed to loan their objects, with many being shown for the first time.
Medici vase made of Florentine fayence
The exhibition features around 150 works and they are displayed in their original positions in the rooms at Strawberry Hill – helpfully, in 1784, Walpole published a room-by-room guide for visitors. Among them are portraits by Hans Holbein, Anthony van Dyck, Sir Joshua Reynolds and Sir Peter Lely and a painting by William Hogarth of Sarah Malcolm while she was incarcerated in Newgate prison. She had been convicted of a triple murder and was awaiting hanging.
Roman Eagle, 1st Century AD
Other highlights include: a monumental Roman Eagle from the first century AD found in the Baths of Caracalla; fabulous examples of Sèvres pottery; a clock given by Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn as a love token (their initials are engraved on the weights); a red hat that probably belonged – and according to Walpole, it definitely did – to Cardinal Wolsey; a cravat carved by Grinling Gibbons; and the ‘magic mirror’ (it is an obsidian disc) used by Dr Dee of Mortlake,
Queen Elizabeth I’s astrologer and alchemist, to conjure up spirits during his ‘magic’ rituals.
Open until 24 February next year, this exhibition presents a fascinating insight into both Strawberry Hill House in its 18th century splendour and the singular man who created it, the so-called ‘prime minister of taste’.
Lost Treasures of Strawberry Hill: 20 Oct 2018-24 Feb 2019
Monday-Friday: 12-6pm (until 10pm on
Fridays); Saturday and Sunday: 11am -6pm.
Public guided tours at 10am Saturday and Sunday.
Private guided tours at 10am, 10.30am and 6pm, Monday to Friday
Strawberry Hill House and Garden
268 Waldegrave Road,
Twickenham, TW1 4ST