Henry Hoare the Collector. A notice by John Harrison.

The banker Henry Hoare (1705-1785) is perhaps best known for the extant eighteenth-century landscape garden at Stourhead in Wiltshire. However, Henry was also a prodigious collector of fine art and of artefacts purchased whilst on Grand Tour in 1739-1740. Probably the most famous example of his Grand Tour collecting was the acquisition of the Peretti Cabinet that had belonged to Pope Sextus V. A less well-known example was Henry’s purchase of a second-century CE Roman statue Livia Augusta as Ceres from the estate of Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni.

Henry is considered to be one of the most important art collectors of the early eighteenth-century and as befits a successful banker, he kept good account of his purchases. The extant information on his collecting via private sale, chance acquisitions and specific commissions provides the opportunity to determine how ambitious eighteenth-century merchants established their collections. Cross-referencing his documented acquisitions against visitor accounts provides confirmation of his purchases, as well as information on the design and evolution of his hanging schemes.

In its heyday Stourhead featured one of Gainsborough’s earliest and most famous landscape paintings, as well as original works by Poussin, Carlo Dolci, Fra Botolommeo and Rembrandt. However, these paintings were lost to the collection after the 1883 heirloom sale, as was a landscape described by Henry as a Claude. The Claude attribution is doubtful, though from correspondence between Horace Walpole and Horace Mann it is evident that Henry was keen to acquire for himself original Claudes. In this he seems to have been unsuccessful and had instead to content himself with copies of the two Palazzo Doria Pamphilj Claude’s by Andrea Locatelli and John Plimmer. Henry also commissioned copies of major works by Guido Reni and Correggio from Scottish copyist Jeremiah Davison.

Henry acted as a patron to John Plimmer and Samuel Woodforde, whose Poussin copies and other original works are still at Stourhead. Henry’s collection also featured artists popular with eighteenth-century British collectors, such as Dughet, Maratta and Mengs, the latter of whom Henry commissioned to produce a large Octavian and Cleopatra as a companion for his Maratta painting of the Marchese Niccolò Maria Pallavicini. As well as being a collector and connoisseur, Henry also acted as agent, acquiring on behalf of the Bouverie family the two Claude paintings at Longford Castle. He also commissioned paintings from Vernet for both himself and his near neighbour Lord Arundell.

In my forthcoming book Henry Hoare the Collector I will present the results of my research detailing Henry’s collecting and garden building, including the paintings sold as part of the 1883 heirloom sale. I will also discuss how Henry obtained works for his collection through a detailed examination of the sale records for his most significant pieces. I examine also Henry’s motivations for collecting, concluding that he sought to promote himself as a patron of the arts and man of taste by converting financial capital into cultural capital. This was achieved primarily by purchasing original canvasses by well-regarded sixteenth and seventeenth century French, Dutch and Italian artists, though also through the acquisition of work by significant British artists and commissioning original paintings, as well as copies of well-known Roman paintings.

A second focus of the book will be a critical review of modern readings of the iconography in the eighteenth-century English landscape garden at Stourhead. Scholars have tended to the view that the garden was designed according to a grand plan. Perhaps the best-known grand theory reading of the iconography was the one suggested by Kenneth Woodbridge, who proposed that in making the anti-clockwise circuit walk of the lake we are retracing the journey of Virgil’s Aeneas from Troy to Rome. This reading and others are reviewed in light of recent discoveries regarding the content and evolution of the garden, an enterprise that spanned 70 years, passed through the hands of three owners and witnessed marked changes in garden fashion. I conclude that there is little evidence to support the idea of a grand plan for the garden, especially given that eighteenth-century visitors, including Horace Walpole, Count Carlo Gastone Rezzonico and Mrs Boscawen, failed to acknowledge the themes and iconographic readings proposed by modern commentators. In fact, in contrast to the idea of grand plan, Mrs Boscawen comments that ‘Mr Hoare’s I have since seen; it has many pretty opera scenes in it’.  Her use of the term ‘opera scenes’ suggesting that she viewed each edifice as a discrete scene.

Henry’s collecting opportunities were largely driven by the availability of key items that came up for auction and sale, an inherently unpredictable process. My main contention is that rather than acquire artefacts to complete a grand plan, Henry’s opportunistic collecting instead inspired themes for the edifices with which he populated the garden at Stourhead. Working from this premise I propose a reading of the Stourhead iconography based not on an overall plan for the garden, but instead on individual themes for each of the four garden temples.

John Harrison, Visiting Fellow, School of Art History, Classical Studies, English & Creative Writing and Music, The Open University, UK.

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