“A Collector’s Obsession”: Beckford at the Strawberry Hill Sale

Posted in journal articles by Editor on July 12, 2010

On the 250th anniversary of William Beckford’s birth, Bet McLeod writes in the June 2010 issue of Apollo Magazine about the collector’s acquisitions at the 1842 sale of the contents of Strawberry Hill:

John Hoppner, "Portrait of William Beckford," ca. 1800 (City of Salford Art Gallery)

Horace Walpole (1717–97) and William Beckford (1760–1844), two of the most prominent and well-known collectors, builders and authors of the 18th and 19th centuries in Britain, are inextricably linked. Both had a passion for the past and an uncanny ability to recreate a highly imaginative version of that past. The comparisons between their renowned Gothic residences (Strawberry Hill and Fonthill Abbey) and novels (Castle of Otranto, 1764, and Vathek, 1786) have invited much debate, as have the parallels between their patterns of collecting, their acquisitions, and the arrangement of the collections in their residences. Much interest has also been paid to the on-site public auctions of both their collections, the production of the sale catalogues and the intense public interest that the auctions generated, manifested in the enormous number of visitors and extensive print coverage.

This year sees a celebration of both of these complex and contradictory individuals. It marks the 250th anniversary of Beckford’s birth, which will be commemorated by several publications and a special exhibition at Beckford’s Tower in Bath. It is also the year in which the first large-scale exhibition devoted to Horace Walpole and Strawberry Hill is on view in London at the Victoria and Albert Museum, having opened at the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, in October 2009. Taking as its basis Beckford’s own words as selected from his correspondence, this article provides some insight into his reactions to and acquisitions of decorative works of art and sculpture at the 1842 sale of the contents of Strawberry Hill, which took place over 24 days. . . .

For the full article, click here»

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