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The emergence of an informative document, whose existence was unknown to the art world and to Walpole’s descendants, should prove of great art historical interest and value.

Penny Winstanley, an English local history student at the University of Surrey, made the dramatic discovery a couple of months ago amongst the records of lawsuits in the Court of Chancery when she was cataloguing 18th century Chancery records in the Archives.

Walpole died in 1744 with debts of nearly £40,000, and this massive document was compiled shortly afterwards for a court case that lasted a couple of decades. It lists part of Walpole’s residual estate, the possessions that remained after he had bequeathed the rest to family and friends, and is drawn from his various homes.

The room-by-room listing includes objects such as silver and no fewer than 143 Old Masters from his celebrated picture collection with contemporary valuations. As such it will shed light on the collecting tastes of one of the country’s great connoisseurs and provide a new provenance for a number of paintings and objects.
“It is fascinating for the art historian to compare what was prized at the time of Walpole’s demise and has since fallen out of fashion,” said Jane Brown, the National Archives art and design records specialist.