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Walpole’s Lost Treasures of Strawberry Hill

Strawberry Hill House & Garden © www.kilianosullivan.com

From the 20 October 2018 until the 24 February 2019, Masterpieces from Horace Walpole’s Collection return to Strawberry Hill House in West London, for a once-in-a-lifetime exhibition Lost Treasures of Strawberry Hill.

Dispersed all over the world in the great 1842 sale, for the first time in 170 years, Horace Walpole’s magnificent collection of paintings, sculptures, furniture and curiosities will be returned to Strawberry Hill House in West London. Involving more than 49 lenders, including a significant number of private collectors, his collection will be displayed in the atmospheric interiors he designed for them.

Run Riot interviews Strawberry Hill House curator Dr Silvia Davoli, to find out more about her journey in sleuthing for Walpole’s missing treasures, and her exhibition highlights.

Bethan Wood: How did your journey begin with Strawberry Hill House and researching Horace Walpole's treasures?

Dr Silvia Davoli: Four years ago I was appointed as Research curator at Strawberry Hill, the aim of my job is to retrace the collection of Horace Walpole which was dispersed at auction in 1842.

Bethan: What was it about Horace Walpole's collection that intrigued you so much, and how did your experience in research lend itself to this process?

Silvia: I specialised in the history of collections and taste while doing my PhD and found a real passion in provenance research. What I really love in Walpole is the fact that behind his collection there are so many different cultural reasons and motivations.

Bethan: Readers can follow your blog which documents your research and discoveries. How did you go about researching for Walpole's collection, and have there been any unexpected or exciting surprises?

Silvia: Over three years, I have successfully retraced over 150 objects from Walpole’s collection. My research tools are multifarious and my investigation has led me around the world. From Walpole’s correspondence, inventory and drawings of his house and collection commissioned from John Carter to the 1842 Great Sale catalogue. From records held at the Lewis Walpole Library at Yale University to Google.

I found a lost Roman fresco recently auctioned by Sotheby’s, which once hung above the door in Walpole’s Little Library in his garden cottage at Strawberry Hill, the fresco was bought by Walpole from Middleton’s collection. The turning point came when I met Dr Florent Heintz, Head of the Department of Ancient Sculpture and Works of Art at Sotheby’s. Dr Heintz has been a critical guide to me on the trail of Walpole’s antiquities. I sent Dr Heintz some images of Middleton’s illustration, and just two weeks before a Sotheby’s client brought a piece of Grand Tour souvenir into their New York offices. It was in fact a Roman fresco on stucco, ca. 2nd century CE, with 18th century restorations, which perfectly mirrored Middleton and Walpole’s. I marvelled at the serendipity. Without the Middleton/Walpole provenance, the New York fresco might have been overlooked as mostly uninteresting Grand Tour memorabilia. Instead, I had happened upon one of our missing treasures.

However, I am still in search for many lost treasures of Strawberry Hill. I thought I had found a painting of Lord Falkland, the very painting that inspired the scene in Walpole’s gothic novel, ‘The Castle of Otranto’, in which a portrait comes to life. Once homed in the great gallery, only to discover that there are two versions of the portrait, so the trail continues.

You can put your sleuthing to the test and join the Strawberry Hill Treasure Hunt, supported by Boodle Hatfield, Solicitors: www.strawberryhillhouse.org.uk/strawberry-hill-treasure-hunt

The Library © www.kilianosullivan.com

 

Bethan: Opening on October 20, with over 150 objects returning to the house, which are your recommended highlights and why?

Silvia: The Imperial marble Roman eagle (lent by the Earl of Wemyss and March, Gosford House, East Lothian), which had reportedly come to light in Rome around 1742 in the Boccapaduli family’s gardens not far from the Baths of Caracalla, a monumental and rare antique sculpture which Walpole adored.

The portrait of the Three Ladies Waldegrave, Walpole’s nieces and one of the absolute masterpieces by Reynolds, and one of the most iconic paintings to return to the exhibition.

Limoges Hunting Horn a 16th enamel masterpiece, Walpole did not collect Limoges  enamel systemically but he owned a small number of select pieces of great artistic and historical value.  This horn is signed by Limousin, Leonard (French enameler, c.1505 - c.1575/7) was the most famous of seven enamel artists of the  Limousin family, working at the limeoge factory whose signed and  dated works stretch from 1532 to 1574.

Bethan: What experience do you hope visitors will have with the collection in situ as Walpole intended?

Silvia: A time capsule!

Bethan: Horace Walpole once wrote “my buildings, like my writings are of paper, and will blow away ten years after I am dead” - what do you think Horace would have thought of the exhibition?

Silvia: I would be very happy. Walpole was very concerned about the dispersal of his collection I knew it would eventually happened and for that reason he left so many records about the collection in the house. He knew they would have been separated. We used his records to retrace the objects and we are now borrowing a good selection of them! A dream coming true and an homage to Walpole’s efforts.

Open 7 days a week, from the 20 October 2018 until 24 February 2019 offering tours, group tours and private hire. Don’t miss your chance to see Horace Walpole’s Treasures returned to his ‘little gothic castle’ Strawberry Hill House and garden in West London.

Book Now at: www.strawberryhillhouse.org.uk/losttreasures

 

Portrait of the Ladies Waldegrave, Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), 1780-81. Painting purchased with the aid of the The Cowan Smith Bequest Art Fund 1952 © National Galleries of Scotland. Edinburgh.

 

Hunting Horn, Leonard Limousin (c.1505-c.1575/7), 1538, copper, painted enamel and cow's horn, 30.5 cm length Private Collection © Private Collection UK.

 

The Gallery © www.kilianosullivan.com

 

The Tribune © Justin Coe

 

Looking into the Round Room © Justin Coe