Chinese jardiniere

The 17th century Chinese blue and white ‘three friends of winter’ jardiniere back at Strawberry Hill House.

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The 17th century piece decorated in the ‘Three Friends of Winter’ pattern with pine, prunus and bamboo was owned by Walpole (the 4th Earl of Orford) and was with him at his home in Arlington Street before being brought to Strawberry Hill House sometime in the 1760s.

The jardiniere has a macabre story from its time with Walpole. His favourite cat, Selima, drowned in it while trying to catch goldfish. The incident was later immortalised in a mock-heroic ode by Walpole’s friend (an Eton schoolmate), the poet Thomas Gray, called Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes (1747).

In 1773, Walpole, the famed historian, collector and social commentator who built Strawberry Hill, commissioned a Gothic-style pedestal for the jardiniere to stand on with a label displaying the first stanza of the poem. It was placed on prominent display in the cloisters.

The bowl was sold when the contents of the house were auctioned in the 19th century but it has now returned to the Gothic Revival home in Twickenham thanks to the government’s Acceptance in Lieu scheme, administered by the Arts Council. The arrangement was

The arrangement was negotiated by Christie’s and settles £790,000 of tax.

Derek Purnell, director at Strawberry Hill House & Garden, said the jardiniere’s true value “recently emerged”. He added: “Traditionally described as a typical 18th-century Chinese product, made for a foreign clientele, Walpole’s porcelain vase is in reality an older and more valuable object.” The jardiniere is of “exceptional quality”, he said.