Collection Highlights, Display Case, What's New

Horace Walpole and the Strawberry Hill Sale of 1842

Horace Walpole (1717–1797), 4th Earl of Orford, was an English art historian, man of letters, antiquarian, author, and politician. He is remembered for two major accomplishments:  Strawberry Hill—the home he built in Twickenham in southwest London—and his novel the Castle of Otranto, published in 1764 and regarded as the first piece of Gothic fiction. Originally built by the Earl of Bradford’s retired coachman, Strawberry Hill was transformed by Walpole into a masterpiece of Georgian Gothic Revival architecture. Set on a 5-acre lot on the banks of the Thames River, the complex consisted of two structures joined together by a staircase. Between 1741 and 1742, Walpole doubled its size, adding towers and battlements in fulfillment of his Gothic dream. Tourists with printed tickets flocked to Strawberry Hill between May and November to view the interiors and the collections.

Walpole was a passionate collector. When he died in 1797, Strawberry Hill contained at least 4,000 objects, including classical antiquities, paintings, drawings and prints by the old masters, decorative arts, coins and medals, arms and armor and curiosities, as well as innumerable books and additional prints and drawings. Peter Lely’s Portrait of Mrs. Leneve, currently exhibited in the CMA’s gallery 203, once hung in the Long Gallery at Strawberry Hill.

Peter Lely (1618-1680), Portrait of Mrs. Leneve, 1657, Oil on Canvas, 126.70 x 101.30 cm, Gift of Mrs. Otto Miller

Peter Lely (1618-1680), Portrait of Mrs. Leneve, 1657, Oil on Canvas, 126.70 x 101.30 cm, Gift of Mrs. Otto Miller

When Walpole’s heirs decided to auction off the contents of Strawberry Hill in 1841, they contracted with the London auctioneer George Robins, who publicized the sale by placing grandiose advertisements in various publications. Tickets were printed for a private viewing on March 28, 1842, and the public was invited to see the items on April 4; the sale began on April 25 and continued for the next 23 days. The accompanying auction catalogue included as the frontispiece a wood engraving of Walpole. Another page, a second wood engraving, is crowded with images of some of the more important lots. Objects relevant to Walpole and Strawberry Hill are on display in the Ingalls Library,  including the auction sales catalogue, a copy of a ticket to the private viewing, visitor rules, views of Strawberry Hill, and a portrait of Walpole.