Horace Walpole and Strawberry Hill

Article excerpt

Horace Walpole and Strawberry Hill

The V&A, March 6th to July 4th, 2010

www.vam.ac.uk/exhibitions

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Of all the world's great collectors, I can't help thinking that Horace Walpole (1717-1797) must have been among the nicest. The son of Sir Robert Walpole, the man with a good claim to have been Britain's first 'prime minister', Horace was essentially a member of the establishment. But he positioned himself as an outsider and commentator, looking in and laughing.

Walpole was modest and playful with a streak of darkness and the house he created at Strawberry Hill near Twickenham matched his own personality. There he transformed a modest dwelling into a mansion like that in his celebrated gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto (1764). As this exhibition reveals, he closely controlled the image of his beloved Strawberry Hill, commissioning paintings and other images through which to share it with the world.

In 1842 Walpole's collection was scattered in a great and memorable sale. The original house is now under restoration by the remarkably successful Strawberry Hill Trust, whose chairman Michael Snodin is also this exhibition's co-curator. Reuniting many of Strawberry Hill's treasures from across the world, the show is at once timely, quirky and intensely enjoyable.

The opening portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds shows Walpole as rather a wraith- like figure and, indeed, he would mince rather than walk, as if 'afraid of a wet floor'. …