Preventive Conservation & Display, William Hogarth’s portrait of Horace Walpole

Written by Miriam Kleingeltink, Icon Intern in Preventive Conservation

It is captivating to imagine a scenario where a 10-year-old Horace Walpole and his spaniel sat for William Hogarth early in his career as a painter. Both were individuals with developing ideas and many talents, leaving inspiring legacies behind.

Recently, Strawberry Hill Collections Trust acquired an extraordinary portrait of this scene, so there is no need to only imagine. The painting (1727-28), by the renowned artist William Hogarth (1697-1784), has been acquired through fundraising, and grants from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and Art Fund. More about the painting can be read here.

As the Preventive Conservation Intern at Strawberry Hill House, part of my role in relation to acquiring new objects, is to undertake condition assessments, document historic damage and deterioration, recommend treatments and implement preventive conservation measures when necessary.

As this oil painting on canvas is in good condition, treatment was minimal and included dry surface cleaning of the frame and the back of the canvas with a soft brush and museum hoover, before adding a backing to the work. The backing has been applied as a preventive conservation measure to support long-term collections care. It is a commonly used measure to act as a barrier to the accumulation of dust, dirt and mould spores, as well as reducing movement of the canvas and paint surface. This was done by securing an inert polyester film with easily reversible conservation-grade materials.

With the majority of the paintings at Strawberry Hill House on permanent or long-term display, it is essential to consider the management of environmental conditions and display methods, to minimise and reduce potential for deterioration, damage and loss. When installing the portrait of Horace, we limited the visible light levels and limited ultraviolet light  from interior and exterior sources, as these can cause discolouration, cracking and fading to painted surfaces. A discreet physical barrier has also been placed on the floor in front of the painting, minimising the risk of physical damage or surface accretions. In addition, the relative humidity and temperature are consistently monitored, so that we can understand the environment in the house and can work to create a stable environment for our collection, as frequent fluctuations can cause significant damage over time. A routine insect monitoring program (integrated pest management) is in place to monitor insect populations that are a danger to collection items throughout the house. All these preventive measures will assist in the ongoing preservation of William Hogarth’s portrait of the young Horace Walpole, currently on display in the Red Bedchamber, and protect and preserve it  now and for future generations.

Working with a growing collection of paintings and objects at Strawberry Hill House has been exciting and it has been thrilling to contribute to the preservation of this charming painting of Horace Walpole.  The painting is now on display in the intimacy of the Red Bedchamber at Horace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill and will eventually be rehung with other family portraits in the Great Parlour.

“As a student, it has been so interesting and educational to (assist at Strawberry Hill House and shadow Miriam), though the process of receiving the Hogarth painting, preparing it for display and hanging it in Strawberry Hill House” – Debbie Garton (Student, MA Collection Care and Conservation Management, West Dean College)

Special thank you to Jennifer Dinsmore ACR (Icon supervisor and Conservator) and Debbie Garton (Placement student, MA Collection Care and Conservation Management, West Dean College) for guidance and assistance. Images are credited to Debbie Garton and Miriam Kleingeltink. Miriam Kleingeltink is Icon (Institute of Conservation) Intern in Preventive Conservation at Strawberry Hill House, generously funded by The Pilgrim Trust and The Radcliffe Trust.  

Images: Myself and Jennifer Dinsmore ACR (supervisor/conservator) assessing the back of the painting and discussing preservation options; A detail of annotations on the back of the canvas.


Images: Jennifer Dinsmore ACR and Debbie Garton (Placement student) securing the Melinex barrier/backing; A detail of the bottom right corner of the back of the frame, showing the build-up of the backing.


Images: Adjusting security fittings during hanging; Debbie Garton concluding installation with a light hoover with soft brush to historic surfaces.

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Strawberry Hill House is internationally famous as Britain’s finest example of Georgian Gothic Revival architecture.