The Londoness

Born in Paris.

Made in London.

Teller of London Tales.

Strawberry Hill: Walpole’s Lost Treasures come home

Last updated on April 23rd, 2021

How on earth do you track 150 paintings, sculptures, furniture and curiosities which were dispersed 176 years ago after the great “sale of the century?”  You hire art super-sleuth Silvia Davoli, that’s how. And you know Horace Walpole would be tickled pink (or probably red, a colour he used lavishly and liberally) to see his loot once again adorning the halls and walls of his extraordinary Gothic mansion in London. After a worldwide three-year hunt, the Lost Treasures of Strawberry Hill are home for a good haunting, at least for a while.

Lost Treasures of Strawberry Hill, The Gallery, Horace Walpole, gothic interior

The Gallery (Photo Kilian O’Sullivan)

Of course, the lost treasures weren’t exactly lost. They were sold back in 1842 during a sale which would last 24 days and see the sale of some 4000 objects. Davoli, who is research curator at Strawberry Hill, specialises in the history of collecting and has been tracking the location of these magnificent objects since 2013. Fast forward to 2018, and the 150 works which form part of the exhibition come from 55 lenders which include 15 of the UK’s great country houses. Some of the objects are still in the possession of the same families, such as the Earl of Derby, who purchased the original objects back in 1842. Lucky for the curators, and for us, Walpole was a meticulous diarist and notekeeper, and recorded every object and its location in his Description of Strawberry Hill. 

Lost Treasures, Strawberry Hill, Walpole, Catherine the Great, van Dyck

Portrait of Margaret Smith, wife of Thomas Carye, Anthony van Dyck, c.1636. (Private Collection). Walpole regarded this painting as one of his two finest pictures by Van Dyck. He bought it from the 1751 sale of his father’s collection. Robert Walpole’s other Van Dycks, originally from the Wharton collection, went to Catherine the Great of Russia. (Photo: Kilian O’Sullivan)

Lost Treasures – Exhibition Highlights

Horace Walpole, Strawberry Hill, Lost Treasures

Portrait of Horace Walpole, Rosalba Carriera, 1741. This portrait was made by the famous female pastellist Rosalba Carriera while Walpole was in Venice, during the Grand Tour. It belonged to his father at Houghton Hall, Norfolk. (Photo: Kilian O’Sullivan)

Walpole was the ultimate tastemaster, the inventor of modern gothic, and I’m always in awe when I see this extraordinary house perched on a hill in suburban Twickenham. You can take a quick tour of the house with me here, but I strongly recommend you head down there and see it with your own eyes.

Anne Boleyn’s Clock in The Library

Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII, Strawberry Hill, period clock

Anne Boleyn Clock at Strawberry Hill, on loan from Her Majesty the Queen (Photo: Kilian O’Sullivan)

Walpole was a big fan of all things Tudor. He had eight Henry VIII portraits in the house and a piece of Mary Tudor’s hair on display in the Beauclerk Closet. In the Library is a remarkable object on loan by Her Majesty the Queen: a clock which Henry gifted to his new bride, Anne Boleyn, on the morning of their wedding day in 1530. It bears the royal coat of arms and is engraved with the lovers’ initials. Walpole referred to this token of love as one of the “Principal Curiosities” in his collection.

Lost Treasures of Strawberry Hill, Library

The Library. Photo: Kilian O’Sullivan

The Ladies Waldegrave in The Great Parlour

Lost Treasures of Strawberry Hill, The Ladies Waldegrave

Portrait of the Ladies Waldegrave, Joshua Reynolds, 1780-81, National Galleries of Scotland. Edinburgh. Purchased with the aid of The Cowan Smith Bequest and the Art Fund 1952.

I’ve been buzzing with anticipation to see this marvellous Joshua Reynolds portrait of Horace’s three great nieces. He requested that they be pictured as the Three Graces, yet the painting is more illustrative of the Three Fates. They are depicted as Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos who spin, measure and cut the thread of life.

Cardinal Wolsey’s Hat in the Holbein Chamber

This fine object (which I could not photograph) used to hang in Walpole’s Holbein Chamber. Dedicated to all things Tudor, this room was the template for “period rooms” and thought to be the first of its kind in Europe. The ceiling was a copy of the Queen’s Dressing Room in Windsor Castle. The room had purple walls and a purple bed covered in purple and white feathers.   Walpole referred to this room as “sober”. You can imagine what the rest of the house looked like if this was his most muted.

Holbein Chamber, period room, Tudor art, Horace Walpole, Strawberry Hill

The “sober” Holbein Chamber

The Eagle has Landed

Lost Treasures of Strawberry Hill, Eagle, Horace Walpole, Anne Seymour Damer

Eagle on an altar base, Roman, first century AD. This important sculpture was bought in Rome thanks to the intermediation of Walpole’s friends John Chute an Horace Mann. Arriving in London in 1747, it was initially shown in Walpole’s London house in Arlington Street. Courtesy, the Earl of Wemyss & Marc (Photo Kilian O’Sullivan)

It took two years to heave this 1st century AD Roman eagle back to Strawberry Hill from Italy. At some stage, a chunk of its beak broke off, and the said vandal put the piece in his pocket. Walpole was a great supporter of female artists, and commissioned his cousin and protegée, Anne Seymour Damer, to fix the beak. Walpole would bequeath Strawberry Hill to Damer before she passed it down to John Waldegrave.

Catherine de Medici in The Gallery

Lost Treasures of Strawberry Hill, Catherine de Medici, Wapole

The portrait of Catherine de Medici and her Children hangs in The Gallery, a folly of a room and one in which I could sit for hours. I just wish I could see it stuffed exactly as it would have been in Walpole’s day. Today, I will settle for this grand portrait and the gold and white papier maché-vaulted ceiling, modelled on Henry VII’s chapel at Westminster Abbey.

The Cabinet in The Tribune

Lost Treasures of Strawberry Hill, Tribune, Horace Wapole

Cabinet  of  miniatures  and  enamels   Designed  by  Horace  Walpole,  perhaps  with  William  Kent.  Perhaps   made  by  William  Hallett.  Carving  by  James  Verskovisand  Giovanni  Battista  Pozzo  and  anonymous  hands,  1743,  padouk veneer,  set  with  carved  ivories,  ©  V&A  images/Victoria  and  Albert  Museum,  London

The cabinet of miniatures and enamels was designed by Walpole on his return from the Grand Tour. I cannot imagine anywhere else in the world where this cabinet should belong. It’s lost inside its permanent home in the gargantuan Victoria and Albert Museum. I for one think it should be returned to Strawberry Hill for good. Who’s with me?

Lost Treasures of Strawberry Hill is on until 24 February 2019. More information here.

Strawberry Hill House


Victorian Tea, V and A



A London arts and culture blog featuring articles about art, theatre, opera, dance, music and design.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.