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Members of the public asked to help find missing portrait which inspired the world's first gothic novel
Strawberry Hill House. Photo: Kilian O'Sullivan.

LONDON.- The curators at Strawberry Hill House in London are asking members of the public to help them find a missing painting that inspired Horace Walpole’s celebrated gothic novel The Castle of Otranto. The painting, a portrait of Henry Carey Lord Falkland, c. 1762, attributed to Paul Van Somers (1575 – 1633), originally hung in the great Gallery at Strawberry Hill but has since been lost.

Over 150 paintings, sculptures and curiosities from Horace Walpole’s celebrated 18th century collection have been reunited for the first time in 176 years for Lost Treasures of Strawberry Hill: Masterpieces from Horace Walpole’s Collection, a once-in-a-lifetime exhibition open until 24 February 2019. Research Curator, Dr Silvia Davoli and Michael Snodin, Chair of Strawberry Hill Collection Trust, have undertaken a worldwide treasure hunt for Walpole’s collection. The search continues for many objects which are still at large, such as the portrait of Henry Carey Lord Falkland.

The lost painting inspired the scene in The Castle of Otranto in which Manfred, the Lord of the castle, witnesses the portrait of his grandfather “quit its panel, and descend on the floor with a grave and melancholy air”. The novel influenced the gothic literary canon, providing the origin of the idea that what is lifeless can suddenly come to life as described by Mary Shelley.

It was initially believed that Falkland’s portrait went into the collection of the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation in Houston, Texas. However, whilst researching the painting’s provenance, Silvia Davoli discovered that there are in fact two versions of the Falkland portrait. One went to Texas, but the location of the other is a mystery.

It is known that the missing Falkland portrait was at Strawberry Hill by 1762. It was then sold in the Great Sale of 1842 to a John Tollemache Esq. of Helmingham Hall. The painting somehow travelled to Long Island, USA, where it was last seen in the collection of Margaret Van Alen Bruguiére in 1970. Margaret "Daisy" Van Alen Bruguiére (1876 – 1969) was an American socialite, art collector and the niece of Frederick Vanderbilt. Following her death, the painting eventually reached London, and in July 1970 it was put into a sale. Notes from the Leggatt Brothers catalogue from the London sale reveal that the missing painting was then sold to a buyer named ‘Thorburn’ for £400. It may be that ‘Thorburn’ is still in possession of the painting.

Another missing artwork includes a portrait of a young man in fur, c.1526, described by Walpole as by Venetian artist Giorgione. The painting was displayed in Walpole’s great Gallery at Strawberry Hill and is said to have originated from King Charles I’s collection. Its whereabouts are now unknown. Silvia Davoli discovered that the portrait was sold in the 1842 Great Sale of Strawberry Hill to T.B Brown of Howland Street for £110 – one of the restorers who worked at the National Gallery in London for its first director, Charles Eastlake. The Strawberry Hill curators are searching for any information relating to the painting’s story – whether it was sold by Brown to another private collector of bequeathed to a museum. It is not unusual for attributions to Giorgione to be used to indicate a wider range of Venetian masters, meaning that the missing painting may now be under the name Lucinio, Lotto, or Titian.

Lost Treasures of Strawberry Hill: Masterpieces from Horace Walpole’s Collection provides a unique opportunity to view the collection as Walpole intended, with works displayed together in their original setting and position in the fine rooms of Strawberry Hill based on detailed descriptions left by Walpole throughout the house. The exhibition features over 150 works drawn from 55 collections. A richly illustrated book about Walpole and his collections, written by Silvia Davoli accompanies the exhibition. For the public, this will be the only opportunity to see Strawberry Hill as its owner intended.

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