Hermitage Rooms Archive:

Painting, Passion and Politics:
Masterpieces from the Walpole Collection

Painting: Sir Robert Walpole with Horse and Groom, by John Wootton
Sir Robert Walpole
with Horse and Groom

Painting: Venus, Flora, Mars and Cupid (Allegory), by Paris Bordon
Venus, Flora, Mars and Cupid (Allegory)

Painting: Abraham's Sarcifice, by Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn
Abraham's Sacrifice

Painting: Portrait of Inigo Jones, by Anthony Van Dyck
Inigo Jones

28th September 2002 - 30 March 2003
Generously supported by the Open Russia Foundation

Sir Robert Walpole (1676-1745), 1st Earl of Orford and Britain's first Prime Minister, assembled one of the 18th century's most famous art collections for his beloved estate, Houghton Hall, Norfolk. The sale in 1778-9 to Catherine the Great of 204 works from Houghton by Walpole's eccentric and volatile grandson, the 3rd Earl of Orford, was surrounded by great secrecy and wild rumour. There had been hopes that the collection might be acquired for the nation and the sale was perceived as indicative of the declining state of the country.

The exhibition presents 34 masterpieces from the Walpole collection, most returning to England for the first time in over 200 years. Among these are works by 17th-century Flemish, Dutch and Italian painters such as Rembrandt, Sir Peter Paul Rubens, Sir Anthony Van Dyck, Frans Snyders, Guido Reni, Carlo Maratti and Salvator Rosa. In addition there are paintings by Nicolas Poussin and Claude Lorrain and a painting by Bartolomé Murillo in its original frame designed for Houghton by William Kent. When Prime Minister, Walpole hung many of these pictures at Downing Street, his official residence.

The Marquess of Cholmondeley is kindly lending antique and Renaissance sculpture, splendid 18th-century furniture and other material acquired by Sir Robert for Houghton Hall.

A souvenir publication illustrating every work in the exhibition in colour will be available. The exhibition will be accompanied by an audioguide which will provide social and historical context for the works on display enabling the visitor to gain a deeper appreciation not only of the paintings themselves but the climate in which they were collected.

The exhibition coincides with the publication of 'A Capital Collection Houghton Hall and the Hermitage with a Modern Edition of Aedes Walpolianae, Horace Walpole's Catalogue of Sir Robert Walpole's Collection', edited by Andrew Moore and Larissa Dukelskaya. Published for The State Hermitage Museum and the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art by Yale University Press.


See previous exhibitions