Strawberry Hill House London + Horace Walpole

The Royal and Imperial Academy’s Study Leave Part I | Crittal Factor | Found Treasures

Before the quips of Oscar Wilde there were the quotes of Horace Walpole. Take, “The world is a tragedy to those who feel but a comedy to those who think.” Or, “The whole secret of life is to be interested in one thing profoundly and in a thousand things well.” His description of Twickenham, “Dowagers as plenty as flounders inhabit all around,” might have come straight from the script of An Ideal Husband. But Horace came a century earlier, destined to be forever ahead of his time.

The man who added a consonant to a style. The man whose house became an architectural genre. The man who loved cats. Horace Walpole was the son of Sir Robert Walpole, Britain’s first Prime Minister. He stretched the term ‘polymath’ to its very limit. Strawberry Hill Gothick was his contribution to the lexicon of architecture. Its origin was his summer villa Strawberry Hill which was both a private retreat and a house for show. A maison de plaisance.

Strawberry Hill, created over the latter half of the 18th century, was “The castle of my ancestors”. Or at least the ancestors of his imagination. Aware of his status as landed gentry rather than aristocracy, Horace boldly set out about designing a house with the help of friends such as Robert Adam to elevate his social standing. Medieval revival meets idiosyncratic charm. Carcassonne comes to TW1. Phallic finials, pepperpotted polygonal perpendicular verve, cusped lights, quatrefoils and crenellations, it’s a sugary confection, a castle dipped in wedding cake icing.

Horace desired theatrical effect, nostalgic ambience and what he called “gloomth”, not historical accuracy. He dream that, “Old castles, old pictures, old histories and the babble of old people make one live back into centuries that cannot disappoint one.” To this end, after spending half a century filling Strawberry Hill to the rafters or at least rib vaults, no stranger to self publicity, he published a catalogue A Description of Strawberry Hill. Half a century later, the collection was posthumously dispersed in a 24 day sale. Lost Treasures is an exhibition of some of his collection returned on loan to its original setting. For the first time this century, it is possible to enjoy the vision of the man who put the gee into ogee.

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