Milo Naeve Reviews
Thomas Hope: Regency Designer
Thomas Hope: Regency Designer
Eds. David Watkin and Philip Hewat-Jabor (Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design, and Culture: New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 2008).
Hardbound Only, 527 pages, 500 illustrations
ISBN 978-0-300-12416-3, $100
Americans owe a debt over two centuries to Thomas Hope (1769-1831). The Anglo-Dutch connoisseur made an idiosyncratic mark on the arts of Regency England, and he would have taken great satisfaction in his presence in the United States. Duncan Phyfe and his contemporaries in New York City followed Hope's innovative furniture designs shortly before the War of 1812, craftsmen through the nation often held to Hope's general furniture forms before the Civil War, and Hope's decorative arts designs gained renewed energy in an international revival after World War I that even extended to Art Deco in Hollywood films. The furniture designs are the most obvious strand of Hope's impact. It is interwoven with his role as a major collector of ancient art, a patron of contemporary art, and influence on costume, silver design, sculpture, architecture, painting, and the installation of works of art.
He funded his efforts with profits from the family firm dominating European banking. Hope's Scottish ancestors had sailed in the 17th Century to Amsterdam. Shrewd investments and marriage alliances led to prominence comparable to that of the later Rothschilds. Like that family, the Hopes made international loans to such powerful European governments as that of Russia's Catherine II. The large Hope family anticipated the Napoleonic Wars and carefully planned emigrating to London in 1795.
Seven years earlier, in 1787, Thomas Hope had left Amsterdam for an unusual extended Grand Tour of eight years. He went to Southern and Central Europe until 1795. Hope had briefly worked at eighteen in the family firm and occasionally joined the family in Amsterdam and London before again traveling over two years to then remote Greece, Egypt, and other destinations in the Ottoman Empire.
The family tradition of amassing collections over his travels led to buying Clark House in London and remodeling it for them from 1799 to 1802. The interiors became the subject of his illustrated book of 1807 entitled Household Furniture Executed from Designs of Thomas Hope, Frances Collard's excellent essay reveals that others may have aided with the designs, and it is evident that furnishings also came from shops in London and Paris. Hope's papers would resolve many issues of attribution, but they are currently unlocated.
A lavish lifestyle as one of the wealthiest men in England continued with Hope's marriage in 1806 and his purchase of Deepene--a country house in Surrey--in 1807. Renovations of it continued until his death in 1831. Study of the remarkable furnishings and collections there and in London is complicated by his descendants' dispersal of them.
Hope's energy in writing books on such varying topics as architecture, gardening, and costume was aimed at reforming taste. His efforts long have been neglected. The scholars lifting him from obscurity have been engaged on their project over several years.
Thomas Hope: Regency Designer is a catalogue for an exhibition of the same title. The first venue was London at the Victoria and Albert Museum from March 21 through June 22, 2008. The second was New York City at the Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design, and Culture from July 17 through November 16, 2008.
The 125 exhibition artifacts were from both museums. Most of those deleted from London were marble sculptures. The importance of the book is through discussion of artifacts in both venues. Those owned by Hope had been traced over many years and became the foundation for intense research about the man and his interests.
The first of two sections in the book consists of fifteen chapters. The strength of it is treatment of Hope's many interests by specialists in each:
- Philip Mansel: Hope's family and travels
- David Watkin: Hope's Duchess Street house
- David Watkin: Hope's publications on architecture, furniture and decoration
- Frances Collard: Hope's furniture
- Aileen Ribeiro: Hope and Regency dress
- Martin Chapman: Hope's metalwork designs
- Ian Jenkins: Hope's antiquities
- David Bindman: Hope's contemporary sculptures
- Jeannie Chapel: Hope's contemporary pictures
- Jeannie Chapel: Hope's Old Master pictures
- Daniella Ben-Arie: Hope Family collecting and patronage
- David Watkin: Hope's country House the Deepdene
- Jerry Nolan: Hope's novel
- Roger Scruton: Hope's philosophical treatise
- Frances Collard and David Watkin: Hope's legacy
The essays, like the book as a whole, are securely documented and carefully edited for clarity.
The other part of the book is a catalogue of artifacts in the exhibition for London and New York City. Eight themes, such as Egyptian sculptures or classical vases, present them. Each entry within the themes includes an essay, artifact information, and excellent illustrations (usually in color).
Other parts of the book firmly support the text. Susan Weber Soros' "Foreward" gracefully and succinctly presents the genesis of the exhibition and book (pp. ix-x). The "Introduction" by David Watkins is a clear summary of the main themes, their interaction, and their significance (pp. xiii-xxix). Daniella Bon-Arie is the author of the useful "Hope Family Tree" and "Chronology" (pp. xx-xxiv).
The final parts of the book support the reader's use of it. They include Jeannie Chappel's appendix of Old Master pictures inherited by Thomas Hope and his brother, Henry (pp. 503-505). Daniella Ben-Arie divides her excellent bibliography into convenient categories. The "Index" is useful and accurate in the several random entries consulted (pp. 520-525).
Many disciplines in the arts will be grateful to Bard for the book. Mrs. Soros cites the independent scholar and connoisseur Hewat-Jaboor as the "ultimate catalyst" behind organizing the exhibition and the publication (p. ix). He was supported by David Watkin, the distinguished Professor of the History of Architecture, Cambridge. Essential for the project was the scholar Daniella Ben-Arie.
The book is magnificent in scope and execution. It is a requirement for understanding the American arts.