Exhibition | The Jewish Past of Strawberry Hill

Posted in exhibitions, online learning by Editor on September 8, 2021

From the exhibition press release, via Art Daily,

The Unexpected Jewish Past of Strawberry Hill House
Online, starting in 2021

Grant of Arms to John Braham, detail, 1817, “Rinasce piu gloriosa” (It rises again more glorious).

As part of the events and activities celebrating the European Jewish Days of Culture festival, Strawberry Hill House has a free online exhibition exploring the lives of two of the historic west London villa’s former owners: Frances, Countess Waldegrave (1821–1879) and Herbert Stern, 1st Baron Michelham (1851–1919).

For many, Strawberry Hill House is synonymous with Horace Walpole, who built the neo-Gothic villa (1749–76), and filled it with his collections. However, following his death in 1797, the house was passed to a succession of owners, including the formidable Frances, Lady Waldegrave, the daughter of the internationally famous Jewish opera singer, John Braham, and later to Herbert Stern, the scion of a Jewish banking dynasty. As visitors will discover in Strawberry Hill’s comprehensive online exhibition, the House’s Jewish owners brought it back to the centre of the social and artistic milieu of their respective eras.

Through a variety of images and objects, online visitors can explore the aspects of Jewish culture and sociability that characterised the lives of Lady Waldegrave and the Stern Family. With themes including family ties, cosmopolitanism, art patronage, social status, religious identity, anti-Semitism, and different forms of philanthropy, the exhibition shines a spotlight onto the lives and activities of two very different chatelaines, whose time at Strawberry Hill has often been overshadowed by the presence of Walpole.

Visitors to Strawberry Hill House will be able to explore two objects on loan that complement the online exhibition: the Grant of Arms to John Braham (1817) and the Louis William Desanges painting Strawberry Hill: The Drawing Room (1865). Lady Waldegrave was very proud of the coat of arms granted to her father in 1817—a symbol of his success, and his patronage by important figures such as the Duke of Sussex. Appropriately enough for a poor orphan from the East End, who had sold pencils on the street as a young boy, he chose a phoenix rising from the ashes as his crest. The phoenix holds a lyre in its beak—a suitable symbol for a musician (the lyre was the crest of the Worshipful Company of Musicians), and the Grant is inscribed ‘Rinasce piu gloriosa’ (it rises again more glorious). One of the stained-glass windows in the Round Drawing Room at Strawberry Hill shows Braham’s Grant of Arms, and it can also be seen above the entrance gate. Lady Waldegrave became known as one of the foremost political hostesses of Victorian Britain. She, along with her last husband Chichester Fortescue, managed a wide circle of political friendships, both nationally and internationally. Whilst she was deeply involved with the fortunes of the Liberal Party, for which Fortescue was an MP and cabinet minister, the parties she hosted at Strawberry Hill were deliberately bipartisan. Lord Russell, Gladstone and Disraeli were all regular visitors to Strawberry Hill. The Desanges painting Strawberry Hill: The Drawing Room shows such a glittering gathering.

To coincide with the online exhibition, author and curator Nino Strachey will share her personal reflections on the life of her ancestor, Frances Waldegrave, with a talk on 29 September. Drawing on her research into the Braham family, Nino will share new insights from the papers recently acquired by the British Library.

Strawberry Hill House Curator, Silvia Davoli, says: “Our collaboration with the Jewish Country Houses Project has led me to develop a more in-depth documentary research on Lady Waldegrave and the Sterns. With this exhibition my hope is to engage our visitors with a new exciting dimension of the history of the house, a story full of surprises and yet to be told!”

Derek Purnell, Director, Strawberry Hill House & Garden, says: “I am delighted that by displaying these items we are able to begin to share some of the lesser-known stories of Strawberry Hill House’s illustrious history, and we are grateful to Nino Strachey for her contribution to making this project possible.”

Since 2018 Strawberry Hill House has collaborated with the Jewish Country Houses Project, a 4-year research project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, you can find more information about the project and the ongoing initiatives here.

This exhibition is curated by Silvia Davoli (Curator, Strawberry Hill), in collaboration with Nino Strachey (Writer and former Head of Research for the National Trust), Tom Stammers (Associate Professor in Modern European Cultural History, University of Durham), Michele Klein (Independent Researcher), Chris Jones (Curator, Salomons Museum), Bethan Wood (Marketing and Communication Manager, Strawberry Hill), and Carole Tucker (Hon Librarian at Strawberry Hill).

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