In 1842, following renowned writer Horace Walpole’s (1717-97) death, the contents of Strawberry Hill House were dispersed in a famous auction, known as the ‘Great Sale’.
The property Walpole created is Britain’s finest example of domestic Georgian Gothic revival architecture.
In 1811, the Twickenham house had passed to Walpole’s great niece, Elizabeth Waldegrave, and then to her grandson, John Waldegrave. John died prematurely, passing the house to his brother, George, the Seventh Earl of Waldegrave.
Having been imprisoned for ‘riotous behaviour’, and in financial difficulty, George vowed to let the house fall into ruin. He arranged the month-long (or week-long according to some sources) ‘Great Sale’, where most of Walpole’s collection was dispersed. Interest was so great a two-storey viewing pavilion was built in the grounds.
In recent years, through acquisitions and loan agreements, the Strawberry Hill Trust is aiming to return some of the 6000 objects from the collection Walpole amassed during his lifetime.
Recent moves have included the acquisitions of a portrait of Catherine de Medici (see ATG No 2494) and a celebrated Chinese ceramic fish tub with a macabre past (see ATG No 2565) which both returned to the house.
Now more than 50 Old Master paintings on long-term loan from Dulwich Picture Gallery – and a further eight works from a private English collection – form the latest step. Although none were in the Walpole collection originally, the aim is also to, where possible, recreate the original atmosphere of the house, when the rooms were filled with works of art.
Among the paintings from this loan is a set of 26 British monarchs, assembled by the founder of Dulwich College, Edward Alleyn.