The Walpole Collection

There are many good reasons to love the art collections of the Hermitage, but there are also many intriguing sub-plots for the visitor to think about. One small task one can undertake without too much strain is to identify the paintings commonly collectively known as the Walpole Collection.

We must, as Lewis Carroll once suggested, begin at the beginning. Houghton Hall was built in the 1720s for Great Britain’s first Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole. Walpole assembled one of the finest collections of European art, using Houghton Hall as a gallery for his collected treasures.

Portrait of Sir Robert Walpole (Vanloo)

Portrait of Sir Robert Walpole (Vanloo)

After Walpole’s death in 1745, Houghton Hall was inherited by his son and later, his grandson. By this time, the Walpole family were undergoing economic difficulties and the art collection of more than 200 works was sold to Catherine the Great of Russia. Most of the paintings are housed at The Hermitage. Some remain in Russia at other galleries while a few were sold to art galleries in other parts of the world. Several works were sold during Stalin’s reign in order to help fund the Soviet war effort. That appeared to be the end of the story for the Walpole Collection, but a lucky find in 2010 brought an unexpected twist to the tale. Some sketches were discovered, hidden away in a desk in a long-unused room at Houghton Hall. These sketches revealed the exact location of the paintings. Agreement was reached with the Hermitage for some 70 of the paintings to be loaned back to Houghton Hall, where they could be exhibited in their original settings. A few others from the collection were borrowed from the National Gallery of Art in Washington D C, which had acquired part of the Walpole Collection during the Stalin era.

Portrait of an Elderly Lady (Rembrandt)

Portrait of an Elderly Lady (Rembrandt)

Portrait of Inigo Jones (van Dyck)

Portrait of Inigo Jones (van Dyck)

The collection contains works by Teniers, van Dyck, Hals, Rubens and Rembrandt among many other notables of European art. The project at Houghton Hall allowed the paintings to be assembled in a single collection during the six months of the loan in 2013. The ‘Houghton Revisited’ exhibition attracted 114,00 visitors during the six months of the loan.

Arch of Ferdinand (Rubens)

Arch of Ferdinand (Rubens)

Adoration of the Magi (Jan Brueghel)

Adoration of the Magi (Jan Brueghel)

All of the artworks have now been returned and visitors to the Hermitage can provide themselves with a little extra amusement and pleasure by looking out for the paintings known as the Walpole Collection.

The Kitchen (Teniers)

The Kitchen (Teniers)

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