Horace Walpole’s Art Collection returns to Strawberry Hill House

Fig. 2. Strawberry Hill House, Horace Walpole’s ‘little gothic castle’, following recent restoration.

Fig. 1. Strawberry Hill House, Horace Walpole’s ‘little gothic castle’, following recent restoration.

More than 170 years after it was dispersed in a 24-day ‘sale of the century’ in 1842, the art collection of Horace Walpole is returning home. Following years of detective work, underpinned by Walpole’s extensive descriptions of his house and its contents, more than 200 works have been reunited with the spaces originally designed for their display.

Brought together for a once-in-a-lifetime exhibition opening later this year, the collec-tion includes highlights such as Reynolds’ painting of Walpole’s nieces, The Ladies Waldegrave (now in the National Gallery of Scotland); the rosewood cabinet designed by Walpole, owned by the Victoria & Albert Museum; a portrait of Catherine de Medici, sketched from life by Jean Clouet; and, intriguingly, an Aztec obsidian mirror used in the magical rituals of Dr John Dee, Queen Elizabeth I’s ‘conjuror’.

Walpole’s own descriptions of his ‘little gothic castle’ provide, in many cases, a guide to where and how his works were originally displayed. A sense of how they were originally perceived and experienced can also be gained thanks to the extensive restoration work undertaken at Strawberry Hill over the last decade or so, and, not least, through the retention of much of the house’s collection of stained glass: vital in creating the sense of ‘gloomth’ Walpole so delighted in.

The exhibition, ’Lost Treasures of Strawberry Hill: Masterpieces from Horace Walpole’s Collection’ runs from 20th October 2018 until 24th February 2019. To book tickets, and for further information, see the Strawberry Hill House website.

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