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Strawberry Hill, gallery

The Gallery in Horace Walpole's Grade I listed house at Strawberry Hill, Twickenham. On the first floor of the south wing, above the Great Cloister, this is the showpiece created by Walpole to display his artworks — an artwork in itself, its measurements given in his guide to the house as "FIFTY-SIX foot long and seventeen high, and thirteen wide without recesses" (19). It is a composite design mixing different sources, carried through by different participants in his building programme. The ceiling, he explains in the guide, is copied from that of the Henry VII chapel at Westminster Abbey, the doors (one large and two smaller ones) from the north door of St Alban's, and the display side with the recesses from the tomb of Archbishop Bourchier in Canterbury Cathedral. He adds that John Chute (1701-76) and "Mr Thomas Pitt of Boconnoch" designed the chimney-piece, and that the room is "hung with crimson Norwich damask" (19).

Left to right: (a) The length of the gallery from the west. (b) The elaborate chimney-piece. (c) The canopied recesses from the east.

Kenneth Clark describes Pitt as "a neighbour who drew Gothic with taste" and who replaced Richard Bentley as the latter's "defects" (laziness, money problems — and a dull wife!) became more trying. There is certainly a sense here of a different hand at work, although the gallery would always have been intended to be much more magnificent than the living areas, including the sombrely Gothic Library. One of the state apartments, it was the "main room for entertaining," with its five "mirrored gothic tracery recesses" designed to set off Walpole's fine collection of paintings to the best advantage ("Strawberry Hill") while making a brilliant backdrop to convivial evenings.

The fan-vaulted and gilded papier-mˆaché ceiling.

Clark talks about the "bespangled Gothicism of the Gallery" as something not to be taken seriously (51). Yet it was the fullest expression of Strawberry Hill's capacity to surprise and delight "partly through an extraordinary and theatrical use of light and colour" (Chalcraft and Viscardi 9), and must have been an important element of the impact of the house. In the wider cultural sense, it is also worth noting that Walpole's collections at Strawberry Hill were very extensive. The gestures of private collectors like Walpole, and institutions like the Foundling Hospital, in sharing the pleasure of their artworks with others, would eventually result in the establishment of the country's major public galleries and museums.

Walpole's collections, including ceramics, books, curios, furniture and so on as well as paintings, were sold off by the Seventh Earl of Waldegrave, to whom the house had eventually passed, in the "Great Sale" of 1842. In the catalogue (the title page of which is shown below right) the house is described as "teeming with the finest works of the greatest masters" (Robins vi). Among these are later listed works in the Gallery by Reynolds and Watteau (Robins 214-15). As can be imagined, many such items ended up very far indeed from Twickenham: the Watteau painting, bought by a certain J. P. Beavan for £35.14.0, is now in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Strasbourg ("The Woman Cleaning Copper"). However, in the following century Wilmarth Lewis, a collector himself and the author of Horace Walpole's Library (1958), acquired as much "Walpoliana" as he could and bequeathed it to Yale University, where the Lewis Walpole Library has a database covering all that Walpole is known to have collected, making it a marvellous resource for any in-depth study of Walpole and his house (see "The Lewis Walpole Library" and also "Strawberry Hill: The Collections").

Related Material


Chalcraft, Anna, and Judith Viscardi. Strawberry Hill: Horace Walpole's Gothic Castle. London: Frances Lincoln, 2007.

Clark, Kenneth. The Gothic Revival: An Essay in the History of Taste. London: Penguin (Pelican), 1964.

"The Lewis Walpole Library." Yale University Library. Web. 24 August 2014.

Robins, George. A Catalogue of the Classic Contents of Strawberry Hill Collected by Horace Walpole (auction catalogue). Internet Archive. Contributed by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Library. Web. 24 August 2014.

"Strawberry Hill: About the House: The Gallery." Strawberry Hill House. Web. 24 August 2014.

"Strawberry Hill: The Collections." Strawberry Hill House. Web. 24 August 2014.

Walpole, Horace. A Description of the Villa of Mr Horace Walpole at Strawberry-Hill near Twickenham, Middlesex. Edited version in a booklet compiled and written by Carole Patey and published by the Strawberry Hill Trust, 2014. Available at the house.

"The Woman Cleaning Copper." Yale University Library. Web. 24 August 2014.

Last modified 24 August 2014