Director’s Corner October 2018

November 12, 2018
color photo of a red barn with golden autumn leaves on trees behind

As fall in New England envelopes the Lewis Walpole Library campus in a riot of seasonal color, a glorious transformation of quite another sort is unfolding at Strawberry Hill, Horace Walpole’s gothic revival, fantasy “castle” west of London, with Lost Treasures of Strawberry Hill: Masterpieces of Horace Walpole’s Collection . 

The award-winning restoration of the building and interiors, under the stewardship of The Strawberry Hill Trust, at a cost of £10 million, opened the house to visitors in 2010. But the restoration of the building and grounds, absent Walpole’s renowned collection of furnishings, paintings, books and drawings, antiquities, and “curiosities”, which bedecked the house’s every nook and cranny and was famously auctioned off in a massive, 24-day auction, in 1842, was but the first chapter of Strawberry Hill’s remarkable story of rebirth. 

Now, and through February 24, 2019, over 170 pieces from Walpole’s celebrated Strawberry Hill collection, most of them on temporary loan from over 40 private and institutional owners, are reunited in the rooms once meticulously crafted by Walpole and his associates, and now restored by the Trust and its curators. Many of the pieces are installed in precisely the same location as in Walpole’s time, bringing the house to life with dramatic effect. This exhibition is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience not to be missed!   

The Lewis Walpole Library, with its unparalleled collection of archival resources on Strawberry Hill, has played a vital role in the Strawberry Hill restoration from the outset. Thirty items from the Farmington collections are included in the present exhibition, ranging from the magnificent Boulle coffer on stand to a simple receipt from Sir Joshua Reynolds to Walpole for Walpole’s commission of the magnificent Ladies Waldegrave portrait, on loan from the National Museum of Scotland.  These pieces join several previously commissioned reproductions of iconic Strawberry Hill furnishings based on originals at Farmington, in addition to the more recent Factum Arte reproduction  of the original portrait of Sir Robert and Lady Walpole in its ornate frame. The Library’s Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Paintings, Cynthia Roman, coordinated many details of the current loan, and Conservator Laura O’Brien-Miller prepared all of the LWL pieces for transport and display and assisted the exhibition team assembled by Strawberry Hill with the installation itself.    

Finally, on the evening of October 18th, in the company of over 200 other supporters and friends of this ambitious project, I, accompanied by LWL Board members Stephen Clarke and Jonathan Kramnick, had the pleasure of representing the Lewis Walpole Library at the official opening of Lost Treasures, elegantly presided over by Sir David Attenborough, long-time area resident and friend of Strawberry Hill.  In my opening remarks, representing the Library in our capacity as a key co-sponsor of the exhibition, I congratulated the exhibition’s curators, Michael Snodin and Sylvia Davoli, and the Strawberry Hill team, and thanked all who had generously lent items from personal or institutional collections, and those who by whatever other means had supported Strawberry Hill in this remarkable endeavor.  

Reflecting on Wilmarth Sheldon Lewis’s legacy, both as a scholar and as a collector, I imagined the vindication that Lewis would feel by this confirmation of his conviction, contrary to that of others at the time, that Horace Walpole was a person of historic significance worth studying, collecting, and championing. The Lewises’ generosity has enabled the Lewis Walpole Library to flourish as a vital center for the study of Horace Walpole and his times with collections that complement those at other Yale libraries and museums and programs that support researchers from around the world. Finally, the Lewises’ munificence has made possible the Library’s support of this exhibition.

In 2019/2020 we will celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the Lewis bequest to Yale. More on this in our spring newsletter.  For now, consider a trip to Strawberry Hill. You will not be disappointed.  And if you cannot go, do take a moment to peruse the exhibition website and the exhibition catalogue , written by curator Silvia Davoli and published by Scala (isbn 1785511807), to learn more about this remarkable accomplishment, and those who helped to bring it about.  Also, note that the hunt for pieces from Walpole’s Strawberry Hill collection continues on the Strawberry Hill Treasure Hunt Blog, and keep your eyes open!