There are three aspects of exhibitions such as these. There is the show itself, then the afterlife of its catalog (far too heavy to carry around in the galleries), and then the contribution of these two aspects to our understanding of the worlds presented through them. Both projects brought together a considerable body of experts, so the cultural range and scope of the exhibitions and their catalogs are therefore considerable. This review, however, will focus largely upon the architectural and landscape architectural aspects.
The connections between these exhibitions are various, rich, and often unexpected. But their hinge, so to speak, might be the portrait by John Opie (National Portrait Gallery, London) of Mrs. Delany (néée Granville), with its frame contrived by Horace Walpole for Strawberry Hill, which celebrates her work "among Persons of Rank . . . not Artists," in particular his "female geniuses." It greets visitors to the Delany exhibition. An additional connection is Mrs. Delany's mutual enrichment of contemplative and joyful experiences (citing Milton's "Il Penseroso" and "L'Allegro"), to which Walpole's contrast between the "gloomth" and "greenth" of Strawberry Hill house and gardens might be usefully compared. Finally, the Delany volume publishes a transcription of her manuscript novel, Marianna, anticipating Walpole's The Castle of Otranto by at least five years.
First the exhibitions. A first gallery for Strawberry Hill, mainly of landscape images with some loans from the Lewis Walpole Library at Yale (not in the catalog), was followed by a series of interior spaces where some designs and their collections were displayed. For those who know their Strawberry Hill, this happily revived their memories; for others, of course a lot was missing——the saint that greeted Walpole's visitors in the villa's north entrance was there, but its Gothic niche by John Chute was not. But the concentration of items (the ceramics and miniatures, for example) read much more tellingly as part of Walpole's habit of collecting than did (inevitably) the images scattered throughout the catalogs. There were also the standing cabinets of miniatures by Walpole and (possibly) William Kent and the cabinet by Edward Edwards with drawings by Lady Diana Beauclerk. The most noteworthy rooms of the villa, indicated by a floor plan, were represented by a selection of original items, designs, and documents. There was the Tribune, and the Holbein Chamber, with its screen by Richard Bentley. There was the armory, with its Bentley-designed lamp made from early glass fragments, and the parade armor of Francis I (now reunited with its gauntlets, from the Metropolitan Museum) that Walpole never got to own. For the library, the copy of Dugdale's History of Saint Paul's (1658) was open at the page from which John Chute cut out part of an engraving to design Walpole's shelves. Strawberry Hill's gallery, with its plaster and papier-machéé fan vaulting copied from Westminster Abbey was shown, as also an earlier Bentley sketch of the room without its vaulting. The Round Drawing Room (1766) had designs for the ceiling and chimneypiece by Robert Adam. Finally, the last room featured items from the Strawberry Hill sale of 1842 and——with a nice wit——a database of virtual imagery, supported by the Kress Foundation, wherein by creator, category, or room one could search and "recover" items lost at that sale.
The Mrs. Delany exhibition was smaller, focused essentially on her dialogue with the natural world and on ours with hers. First, a room of sites——Alexander Pope's Thames-side villa and William Kent's drawing of his garden with its Shell Temple, then some of her own landscape sketches of gardens and distant views, and the display of court embroideries and of her collage of colored papers, painted on black backgrounds (British Museum). A video by Kathleen Reeder of the process of making these collages was also shown. But the last room consisted of an astonishing bravura show by Jane Wildgoose: a room stuffed with curiosities, naturalia and artificialia, in honor of Mrs. Delay and the Duchess Dowager of Portland. (A booklet was available listing all these items.) It certainly made great sense of the whole eighteenth-century exchange between the found and the imagined.
The publications (in the case of the Walpole show, incorporating the exhibition's catalog) are all extremely handsome productions, as probably need not be said of Yale University Press; but the praise is still due. Color is excellent, and the treaty between word and image unfailingly maintained. In their different ways, these two publications will become much-used repositories of their subjects, places to consult for both visual and textual details. The two books, however, differ substantially in the scope and stimulation they yield, partly due to the differing assumptions about their subjects. Strawberry Hill is well known——at least by reputation, if not in detailed close-up; Mrs. Delany, a rare and specialized topic, seeks that wider recognition and detailed attention.
The Strawberry Hill volume largely looks inward and not outward. There are essays on Walpole's life and character, his library, his miniatures and his armory, his collecting of ceramics, his art historiography and antiquarianism, and the Strawberry Hill sale of 1842, among others. And these collections were, as Michael Snodin remarks, "full of stories." The slightly annoying habit of inserting brief double-spread pages (on the Grand Tour, The Castle of Otranto, the famous "fish tub" where Selima was drowned, the Strawberry Hill Press, heraldry, stained glass, etc.) into the middle of other articles smacks too much of trying to please a more general readership that might get bogged down in the larger articles; yet many of these topics would have done with more expanded treatment.
Those pieces most directly related to the architecture and landscaping of Strawberry Hill focus on the making of the house in the manner of two building types——the monastery and the castle——by Michael Snodin, drawing upon Walpole's "committee" of friends (John Chute and Richard Bentley, also discussed by George E. Haggerty) and with their attentive debts to models elsewhere. An excellent essay by Kevin Rogers concerns what he terms the "fictive history" of the villa's inspiration and fabrication; one by Stephen Bann on the "historicizing" of Walpole's significance, and another by Nigel Llewellyn on the Anecdotes of Painting and its place in Continental art history suggest the wider reaches of the Strawberry Hill culture. There is a piece by Ruth Mack on the extra-illustrated copy of the Description . . . of Strawberry Hill (published first in 1774), with a two-page insert by Stephen Clarke on the Strawberry Hill Press. And an essay on what Hope Saska calls the "laughing view" of Thomas Rowlandson's views of the villa. Little attention is given to the recently initiated conservation of the villa itself, with plans developed by the firm of Peter Inskip + Peter Jenkins, mentioned on page ix; but that is a topic presumably postponed for another occasion.
The volume Mrs. Delany & Her Circle circles around two prominent items——her textile fragments and her "paper mosaicks." Thus contributors address the nature of scientific practice, the values of "accomplishment" along with the place of the amateur, through discussions of court etiquette and costume, sartorial politics and fashion news, various attributes of female activity (drawing, gardening, the design and resources of interior domestic spaces), natural history and zoology, botanical nomenclature, and Mrs. Delany's work with paper representations of nature and her use of its materials. This is truly an expanded field for the study of material culture, as its various lively and learned contributors testify.
Where it raises issues of landscape architecture is in the discussion of Mrs. Delany's interest in the relations among gardens, domestic space, and decorations; her interest in and direct observation of landscapes (over one hundred of her landscape drawings survive, and many are illustrated); and the world of the grotto and the cabinet. While all the materials throughout these discussions necessarily revolve around themes of Mrs. Delany and her circle, so are somewhat scattered, the comprehension and understanding of eighteenth-century garden practice and theory are quite radical and far-reaching. Mark Laird's exploration of this material in particular is to be applauded, and his forthcoming appearance of The Environment of English Gardening and Botanical Art, 1650––1800 eagerly awaited. They reflect a more complex historiography than the usual (Walpole-directed) landscape architectural narrative.
Mrs. Delany throws light on a variety of garden matters: grottoes and caverns particularly attracted her, and the extended life of the cabinet of curiosities found its gardenist as well as its interior forms at her house in Delville, her husband's small estate outside Dublin, as well as in Pope's grotto, the Goldnay Grotto in Bristol, and her work at Bulstrode for the Duchess of Portland. Her staging of nature in garden, grotto, and cabinet looked as much to its hints as to its formal fashioning. Yet just as she could think that shells in grottos would be sacrificed or "wasted" by decay, so natural materials in gardens would be "wasted," and the preservation of their beauty better appreciated in cabinets or botanical collages. Equally, her sketches of gardens and landscapes marry the freedom of the pencil to a whimsical regard for specific places, for studied casualness in fields, scattered rockwork, and trees. She particularly loved distant vistas from her rooms at Delville (Figure 1), and the exchanges that she pursued between nature in such extended landscape and the art of the immediate garden are now properly aligned with other landscapers, like William Shenstone at The Leasowes. But new perspectives, mooted here, will ensure further study.
Given that rich reading of eighteenth-century landscape practice, it is extremely disappointing that the volume on Strawberry Hill is largely silent on such matters.1 There is but a page on the villa landscape (22––23), and a reference to the shell seat designed by Richard Bentley overlooking the River Thames (101). To be sure, there are other images of the villa in its landscape, although as much there for displaying the architecture: William Pars's view from the gardens illustrates the extension of the State Apartments into the Great North Bedchamber, and says nothing about the garden itself. The exhibition contains other images of the landscape not cataloged (Figure 2).
It is somewhat astonishing that the villa landscape is said to be an "important example of the naturalistic style of picturesque promoted by Alexander Pope and William Kent" (22), when so much of the imagery suggests otherwise. John Carter's plan of the grounds, ca. 1785 (catalog figure 29) or the view of the lawn and the view toward Twickenham by Joseph Charles Barrow in 1789 (catalog figure 39), with its gardeners and potted trees, suggest a rather difficult narrative. This is a narrative that needs contextualizing within a much more complex history of landscape architecture.
Walpole himself raised many themes that relate specifically to Strawberry Hill: his respect paid to the neighboring villa and grotto of Alexander Pope, and its difference from his own gardens (he took his French visitors to Pope's villa, though it is hardly a "stone's throw" away (21)!; the contrasts between the seclusions of Strawberry Hill and the excitements of Vauxhall and Ranelagh; his gradual disapproval, as his "natural" tastes prevailed, of sharing their public effects (rejecting lighted lamps in trees, for example, or the fashionable "ridotti" at a place like Stowe2); his concern for views both within the gardens and outward to the landscape beyond; above all, how his own "History of the Modern Taste in Gardening" compared with his own landscape and with how it was represented in the many images painted for him. And that is, finally, the central issue of how we now read his "History" in the light of its placement originally within the Anecdotes of English painting, its long gestation from the 1750s onwards, and its separate publication and French translation of 1785.
All of this connects directly to the estimation and understanding of Strawberry Hill. Walpole's deliberately neologistic contrast between the "gloomth" and "greenth" of the villa and its landscape, and the arrangements he made to guide his visitors from its gothic glooms to the opening, through the arches of the Great Cloyster, to the green landscapes beyond, would suggest a somewhat more careful view of this dialogue between the gothic villa, with its rich collections, and the closed and open landscapes around it. And since the ongoing restoration proposals for Strawberry Hill have opted, unfortunately, not to reopen the cloister arches, that historical perspective is all the more to be engaged.3
Michael Snodin, ed., Horace Walpole's Strawberry Hill. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009, 356 pp., 300 color illus. $85 (cloth), ISBN 9780300125740
Mark Laird and Alicia Weisberg-Roberts, eds., Mrs. Delany & Her Circle. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009, 416 pp, 300 color and 10 b/w illus. $75 (cloth), ISBN 9780300142792
W. S. Lewis's 1960 lectures on Horace Walpole, Horace Walpole (Bollingen series XXXV-9) are also remarkably silent on the gardens and Walpole's landscaping.
The Yale Edition of Horace Walpole's Correspondence, ed. W. S. Lewis et al. (48 vols.) 39: 133, and 10: 314––16.
I owe to Sarah Katz the recognition of these Walpolean neologisms: see her "Horace Walpole's Landscape at Strawberry Hill," Studies in the History of Gardens and Designed Landscapes 28 (2008), 179, citing Correspondence, 9: 162, 10: 298. Only the "gloomth" reference is cited in the Yale catalog (16). See also Katz's pleas for the reopening of the Great Cloyster as it once existed in both that essay and in "The Cloisters" by Sarah Katz and Zahira Machado, in Site, Cite, Sighting: Investigations at Horace Walpole's Strawberry Hill, prepared for the Samuel K Kress Foundation by the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation at the University of Pennsylvania (2007). Both these references are regrettably absent from the Strawberry Hill catalog.