One hundred years ago this week, the renowned Hope Collection was sold at Christie’s auction rooms in London. Even as “the war to end all wars” raged across Europe, this auction made headlines. The London Times boldly claimed, “No such sale has been held in this country for several generations, and it is not likely that another collection of equal importance will be offered to the public in the time of anyone living” (July 25, 1917).
One object from the Hope sale, a Campanian bell krater featuring a charioteer (lot 126A), was eventually donated to the J. Paul Getty Museum. Los Angeles is also home to some of the most famous sculptures from the Hope Collection—including the Hope Athena and Hope Hygieia, now at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). This anniversary of the sale seems like a fitting opportunity to take a look back at the Hope collection’s origins, dispersal, and legacy.
Fleeing Napoleon and Collecting Antiquities
Thomas Hope was born in 1769 into a wealthy banking family in Amsterdam. Breaking from family tradition, he pursued the study of art and architecture. He visited the traditional Grand Tour destinations in France and Italy, and travelled even farther afield through North Africa, Greece, and the Ottoman Empire—despite the political turmoil following the French Revolution.
In 1794, with the French advancing on Holland, Hope and his cousins packed up the family art collection and fled to London. Meanwhile, in southern Italy, Napoleon’s rising power compelled another avid collector, Sir William Hamilton, to send his collection of over a thousand ancient vases to safety in England. The vases were carefully packed in twenty-four crates for the long journey north. A third of these (eight crates) were lost when their transport ship, the HMS Colossus, was shipwrecked just thirty miles from the English coast near the Scilly Isles. Except for a few vases that washed up on shore, all of the cargo was lost, and Hamilton was devastated. Fortunately, most of Hamilton’s prized figured vases were in the sixteen crates that reached England safely. The HMS Colossus wreckage remained on the sea floor for over 150 years until the mid-1970s when a team of divers and archeologists rediscovered and excavated the site, bringing to up thousands of weathered vase fragments that were acquired by the British Museum and thoroughly catalogued.
Hamilton returned safely to England and in 1801 prepared the surviving vases for auction. Just before the sale, Thomas Hope, newly settled in London and steadily building an antiquities collection, offered to buy the whole group. Even though Hope offered £1,000 less than the asking price, Hamilton was eager to keep the collection together, and agreed. These vases would form the core of Hope’s world-class vase collection. We don’t know when Hope acquired the krater now at the Getty Museum, but several of the Hope vases now at LACMA were part of this original Hamilton group.
Fortunately, when his vases were still in Naples, Hamilton employed Wilhelm Tischbein—a young German artist and onetime travel companion of Goethe—to make line drawings of their decoration, which were fully published in several volumes (Tischbein, Naples: 1791–1795). These drawings both serve as a record of the vases lost at sea and confirm which Hope vases were originally in Hamilton’s collection. A notable example is an amphora of Athena serving wine to Heracles (LACMA 50.8.21), which vase scholar Sir John Beazley first studied in at Hope’s country estate at Deepdene in the early 1900s, nicknaming the vase’s artist “The Deepdene Painter.” Another Hamilton-Hope amphora (LACMA 50.8.23) was loaned to the Getty Villa in 2013 and highlighted in a previous post on the Iris about the nearly wholly shipwrecked Hamilton collection.
Even before acquiring a permanent residence in London, Hope actively collected ancient sculpture through dealers in Italy and from old collections in England. Two of Hope’s finest sculptures, the Athena and the Hygieia (now at LACMA) were found together in 1797 at Tor Boacciana in Ostia, a port city west of Rome. The excavations were directed by Robert Fagan, an Irish painter and antiquities dealer who often sold directly to Grand Tourists and foreign clients. Both statues were found in fragments, and Fagan had them fully restored in Rome, as was the style at the time. Thomas Hope purchased the pair and as soon as the restorations were complete, they were shipped to England.
Designing a Home for the Hope Collection
In 1799 Thomas Hope bought a residence on Duchess Street in London, which required some remodeling to accommodate the family collection and his ongoing antiquities purchases. Hope took great interest in the design and installation of the galleries, drawing inspiration from his travels and studies—carefully curating the decoration and furniture with the contents of each room (a beautiful example of a Hope-designed antique-inspired side table [95.2] is on view at The Huntington Library in San Marino). The work was finished by 1804, and a few years later Hope published a book on the design of Duchess street, complete with illustrations. This book, Household Furniture and Interior Decoration (1807), is said to have introduced the phrase “interior decoration” to the English language; it also became the definitive guide to English Regency style. The very first illustration shows Hope’s ancient sculpture gallery, suggesting that room’s importance, with the Hygieia and Athena visible on the left.
Hope’s vase collection was divided into four separate small galleries, providing a more intimate viewing experience. Hope explains the display in his book, stating, “As these vases were all found in tombs, some, especially of the smaller sort, have been placed in recesses, imitating the ancient Columbaria, or receptacles of cinerary urns.” Hope’s book includes illustrations of three vase rooms, but since the decoration of individual vases is not recorded, it’s not possible to determine exactly where the Getty and LACMA vases were originally displayed.
Setting a new standard of access, Thomas Hope opened his home to the public. The architect and collector Sir John Soane visited Duchess Street in 1802, just as he was preparing designs for the display of his own eclectic collection (Soane’s London residence, now a charming museum, is definitely worth a visit). Hope continued to collect and eventually transferred many of his ancient sculptures to his country residence, Deepdene, about thirty miles south of London. When Thomas Hope died in 1831, he left his entire estate to his eldest son Henry. Although greatly interested in his father’s collection, Henry was heavy-handed in reorganizing its display. The biggest blow to the elder Hope’s legacy came in 1849 when Henry, eager to finance the construction of his own townhouse, sold Duchess Street, which was quickly demolished. The art collection was transferred to Deepdene, where it remained for over fifty years.
The Fall of the House of Hope
In 1884 the Hope inheritance fell to Thomas Hope’s great-grandson, eighteen-year-old Henry Francis, later known as Lord Francis Hope. Although the Hope family had encountered some financial difficulties, Lord Francis accelerated the decline through profligate spending. Declared bankrupt in 1894, he was compelled to sell off his inheritance—the family collection of Dutch paintings in 1898 and the renowned Hope Diamond in 1901 (which sold for a whopping £120,000 and, after changing many hands, ended up at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C.). Meanwhile, to make ends meet, he rented out Deepdene to the Dowager Duchess of Marlborough, who unfortunately despised ancient art and refused access to the famous collections for academics and the public alike. The Hope vases and sculptures remained hidden until the dowager’s death in 1909, and then they were only accessible for a few years before the outbreak of the First World War.
Finally, facing insurmountable debts, in July 1917 Lord Francis sold the Hope art collection, library, and other contents of Deepdene at the Christie’s auction houses in London. The house and estates were sold a few years later and were eventually converted into offices by British Rail. In 1969 Deepdene suffered the same sad fate as Duchess Street and was demolished. A concrete office block was built on the site.
The 1917 Christie’s Sale
Even in the midst of the Great War, the Hope heirlooms auctions made international news. A few days before the antiquities sale, Christie’s put the collection on view in their sale rooms and the London Times exclaimed, “never in our time have we had exposed for sale a dozen full-length Greek statues of the best period […] and over 150 figured Greek vases, such as hardly exist elsewhere except in the great national museums.” The sheer size of the collection was newsworthy—thirty tons of sculpture and vases plus another nine tons of books—all transported from Deepdene to London by road. The Times reported, “a tremendous task it has been, we may remark in passing, to transport [the great statues] from Deepdene to King-street. Full of splendid poetry they may be, but what the carman knows is the prosaic fact that they weigh well over a ton apiece!”
The sculpture sale drew great crowds. One agent described the scene as “a tremendous gathering; the balconies and staircases were packed to suffocation, and people were standing out to the street, the figures having been so well advertised and illustrated in the daily papers.” (Sir Henry Wellcome’s agent, July 25, 1917). The sale catalog included over 250 lots, which amounted to nearly one thousand individual antiquities.
After the auction, newspapers reported on the rarity of the objects—many of the sculptures were believed to be rare Greek originals—and the vast sums paid. The “world-famed” Hope Athena, the frontispiece of the sale catalog, fetched the highest price of all the antiquities, £7,140. Even across the Atlantic the New York Times reported, “$34,000 for the Hope Athene,” which would be over half a million dollars today. The Greek vase that would ultimately end up at the Getty was not big news—it was sold with three vases for £10.10. Even these smaller lots added up, and the whole sale brought in nearly £135,000.
Tracing Provenance from London to Los Angeles
So who bought all of these antiquities and where did they end up? According to newspapers and annotated sale catalogs, most of the buyers were wealthy English and American industrialists, and some London art dealers. The few museum representatives who attended were often outbid, so the bulk of the collection ended up in private hands. After the sale, the Times optimistically reported, “The most satisfactory fact in yesterday’s proceedings is that most of the finest pieces will remain in this country.”
In the following decades, however, the crippling debts of the war and the depression of 1929 forced many collectors to sell at greatly deflated values. Added to this was a value shift in the art market—many of the so-called “Greek” statues in the Hope Collection had come to be accepted as Roman copies, which were less in vogue. For instance, in 1933 the famed Hope Athena was auctioned at Sotheby’s for only £200 and the Hygieia, which went for £4,200 in 1917, auctioned in 1936 for just £598.
England’s loss was California’s gain when William Randolph Hearst, who was actively collecting for his new residence at San Simeon, bought both statues. During the Second World War Hearst went on a buying hiatus, but in 1946 some of the highest-quality Hope vases came on the market when the Marshall Brooks and Viscount Cowdray collections were brought to auction, and Hearst bought about forty vases at the sales. These joined his already fine vase collection, on display in the library at Hearst Castle.
The Athena, Hygieia, and many of the Hope vases were on view at Hearst Castle until 1950, when Hearst donated them and other select objects from his collection to the Los Angeles County Museum of History, Science and Art (which would later become LACMA). In 1973 the Athena and Hygieia were loaned to the newly opened J. Paul Getty Museum (the current site of the Getty Villa), where they were displayed for fifteen years. The Hygieia returned to Malibu in 2006 for extensive re-restoration work—to reintegrate the nineteenth-century restorations that had been stripped in the 1970s. The Athena’s early restorations had been removed by 1933, before Hearst acquired it. Today the Athena, the Hygieia, and some of the Hope vases (50.8.26, 50.8.30, 50.8.40) can be seen on the third floor of the Ahmanson Building at LACMA.
While we know where most of the famous statues and vases in the Hope collection ended up, many others disappeared into private collections. In some cases, their provenance was forgotten or simply not repeated in later sale catalogs. In 1917 the Getty krater was sold to the London art dealer Spink, and by 1923 it was in an American collection. Spink likely sold the vase to Hagop Kevorkian (1872–1962), an Armenian-American archeologist and collector who auctioned off much of his collection in the 1920s at the Anderson Galleries in New York. The 1925 Kevorkian sale catalog includes the first published photo of the Getty krater (lot 356). There is no mention of the krater’s provenance, but perhaps it was common knowledge to those attending the sale—one catalog has handwritten the notation “ex-Hope” next to the lot.
The Getty krater’s whereabouts in the subsequent years are murky. The scholar Arthur Trendall published the vase in 1967 as “once New York market,” with no current location. Finally, in February 1978 it reappeared on the New York art market, fully illustrated in the sale catalog, but with no mention of its provenance (Hope Collection and Kevorkian) or publication history (Tillyard and Trendall). Shortly after the sale, Robert Collins donated the vase to the Getty Museum, and its Hope Collection provenance was immediately recognized. Although currently not on view, the vase was displayed at the Getty Villa in the 2008 special exhibition on The Society of the Dilettanti, and its full provenance, recently updated, can be found on the Getty Museum’s online collection pages.
An End and a Beginning
The 1917 Hope heirlooms sale marked a defining moment in Thomas Hope’s legacy. Although Hope’s collection and his publication Household Furniture greatly influenced collecting and decorative arts through the 1800s, by 1917 relatively few people had seen the antiquities and furniture at Deepdene. The 1917 sale brought about the end of the collection as a unified whole, but also sparked a renewed appreciation of Thomas Hope’s aesthetic, especially in the realm of decorative arts. Unlike Duchess Street and Deepdene, now preserved only in drawings and photographs, these objects are still with us in private collections and museums.
In the hundred years since the sale, an interest in provenance and the reconstruction of dispersed collections continues to grow as exhibitions on Thomas Hope (at the Bard in New York in 2008) and William Randolph Hearst (at LACMA in 2008) suggest. Looking to the future, as more museums put their collections data online, it may be possible to digitally reunite objects from the Hope collection that are now dispersed around the world. Hope’s collection, and its legacy in Los Angeles museums, is a compelling reminder that objects have long histories and journeys, both ancient and modern.
Geoffrey B. Waywell, The Lever and Hope Sculptures (Berlin: Gebr. Mann Verlag, 1989).
Roland Morris, HMS Colossus: The Story of the Salvage of the Hamilton Treasures (London: Hutchinson, 1979).
David Watkin and Philip Hewat-Jaboor (ed.), Thomas Hope: Regency Designer (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008). Exhibition catalog for Thomas Hope: Regency Designer at the Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design, and Culture, July 17–November 16, 2008.
Mary L. Levkoff, Hearst the Collector (New York: Abrams, 2008). Exhibition catalog for Hearst the Collector at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, November 9, 2008–February 1, 2009.
Valerie Smallwood and Susan Woodford, The British Museum: Fragments from Sir William Hamilton’s Second Collection of Vases recovered from the Wreck of HMS Colossus. Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum, Great Britain, fasc. 20; The British Museum, fasc. 10 (London: British Museum Press, 2003).