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Wednesday, 30 September 2020

Thomas Hope – art collector and author of Anastasius (1769-1831)

Thomas Hope by Sir William Beechey (1)
Who was Thomas Hope?

Thomas Hope (30 August 1769 – 2 February 1831) was both an art collector and an interior designer with enough money to indulge his passions for both. He is best known as the author of the acclaimed but racy novel Anastasius, originally thought to be the work of Lord Byron.

Family background

Thomas Hope was born in Amsterdam on 30 August 1769, the eldest son of John Hope and Philippina Barbara van der Hoeven. John Hope was from a wealthy family of Dutch merchant bankers who owned the firm Hope & Co. On his death in 1784, Thomas and his brothers shared their father’s fortune.

Addicted to architecture

After working briefly for the family firm, in 1787 Hope took himself on a Grand Tour – for most of the next eight years. Much of that time was spent in the Levant, in countries like Turkey, studying architecture and civilisation. He appreciated the beauty of classicism and became a great proponent of the Neoclassical style but was also drawn to the romanticism of Mediterranean culture.

Duchess Street

When Amsterdam was occupied by the French in 1795, Hope moved to London, establishing himself in a house in Duchess Street in 1799. He made extensive changes to the house adding large galleries to display his ever-increasing collections of antiquities and art.

Interior of Thomas Hope's picture gallery, Duchess Street (2)
The Persian ambassador, Mirza Abul Hassan, wrote in the journal of his visit to England in 1809-10:

I was invited to the house of Mr Hope…His house is magnificent, with a forecourt like a palace. Inside, there was a large assembly of English ladies and gentlemen, but the house is so vast it seemed almost empty!1

In A Reason for Romance (my nearly finished sequel to A Perfect Match) Georgiana attends a rout at Mrs Hope’s house in Duchess Street. This rout was a historical event and took place on 5 April 1810.2

Marriage and family

Louisa Beresford, Viscountess Beresford (3)
On 16 April 1806, Hope married the Irish beauty Louisa Beresford. Louisa was the youngest daughter of William Beresford, Archbishop of Tuam and Lord Decies. The marriage was not of her choosing.

The Persian ambassador wrote in his journal:

They say that she was married to him for his money – that her father was a ‘padre’ who forced her into a union she was not eager to accept.3

The couple had four sons and a daughter: Henry Thomas (1807), Charles William (1808), Louisa Elizabeth (1810), Adrian John (1811) and Alexander James Beresford (1820).4

Tragically, Charles died in 1817 at the age of eight, during a tour of Italy.

Deepdene

Deepdene (4)
In 1807, Hope bought Deepdene, an estate near Dorking in Surrey with picturesque views of Box Hill and the nearby estates of Norbury Park and Denbies.

In his Select Illustrations of the County of Surrey (1828), Prosser wrote:

The estate of the Deepdene now consists of above four hundred acres of pleasure ground, so artfully disposed that a walk, admitting a pleasing transition of view of upwards of twelve miles, may be taken without retracing a step.5

Hope enlarged the house and commissioned rooms and furniture based on his own designs. According to Prosser, Deepdene boasted a sculpture gallery and a sculpture room and a theatre with a pavement ‘partly composed of a mosaic, from the Villa Hadriana at Rome.’6

In the grounds of Deepdene, Hope built a mausoleum where his son Charles’s ashes were laid and Hope himself was buried.

Deepdene (5)
Antiquarian and patron of the arts

Hope started building his collections on his Grand Tour and continued to add to them throughout his life. He acquired a collection of Sir William Hamilton’s antique vases in 1801 for £4,500 and by 1806, he had over 1,500 vases. Other pieces included Greek statues of Hygeia and Athene found at Ostia in 1797.

As well as collecting antiquities, Hope patronised the arts, recognising and commissioning works from sculptors such as Bertel Thorvaldsen and John Flaxman, and artists such as Thomas Daniell and Roberts Smirke.

Prosser’s Select Illustrations lists numerous works of art in Hope’s ownership in 1828 including sculpture by Thorvaldsen and Flaxman; portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds, Sir Thomas Lawrence, Benjamin West and George Dawe; and paintings of Venice by Canaletto.

Illustration from Household Furniture by T Hope (6)
A man of influence

Hope’s standing as a specialist in art and design was recognised by his acceptance into the Society of the Dilettanti in 1800, and his membership of the Royal Academy, the Royal Institution, the Royal Society, the Society of Arts and the British Institution.

But it was not enough for Hope to become a connoisseur of art and design. He wanted to educate others and influence their taste. His Duchess Street house became a show home, with rooms lined with sculpture, painting and vases. From 1804, he even issued tickets to visit his collections, though this was viewed as rather patronising by the fellow Royal Academy members whom he offered them to.

In 1807, Hope published an influential book: Household Furniture and Interior Decoration – a compilation of his own designs for the rooms and furnishings in his home.

He published Costumes of the Ancients in 1809, and finished Essay on the Origin and Prospects of Man before he died in 1831.

Illustration from Household Furniture by T Hope (1807)
What was Thomas Hope like?

In his entry on Thomas Hope in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, John Orbell noted that Hope ‘was described as ill-looking and effeminate in manner.7

The Persian ambassador was very rude about Hope’s appearance. He wrote in his journal:

Mrs Hope is an Irish beauty – her mouth and teeth are particularly striking. Her husband, on the contrary, is incredibly ugly – if you were to see him in a dream, you would never wake again!8

Although an educated and talented man, I get the impression that Hope was rather full of himself. Not only did he think his ideas superior, but he also felt the need to educate others in matters of taste and design. Orbell described him as conceited and lacking in tact.9

When the Duke of Wellington was Prime Minister, Hope plagued him for a peerage, but he never got one.

Grecian female (8)
Beauty and the Beast

The following story must have been an embarrassment to Hope.

In 1810, the French artist Antoine Dubost quarrelled with Hope over the price of a picture. Feeling hard done by, he was out to seek revenge.

Dubost painted a caricature of Hope and his wife. He named it La Belle et la Bête – Beauty and the Beast – and included it in his Pall Mall exhibition in June.

It must have been obvious who Beauty and the Beast represented as artist Joseph Farington wrote in his diary on 15 June 1810:

Dubost’s Exhibition I went to, & saw his picture representing Mr & Mrs Thomas Hope as a Beast & a Beauty.10

According to Farington’s entry for 23 June:

Thomas Hope was caricatured as a Beast, holding His beautiful wife by the hand, she represented as terrified and distressed – which we thought a natural & proper way of treating it.11

Louisa Hope’s brother, Mr Beresford, was so angry about the picture that he went to Dubost’s exhibition and cut it to pieces with a knife.

The Morning Post for 23 June stated:

Amongst the pictures was one which attracted the notice of all the fashionables, called ‘La Belle et la Bête’, an allegorical painting, most beautifully executed, but supposed to be a satirical representation of a scene in high life…The picture, being a chef d’oevre, was estimated at great value; and as Mr Dubost intends to bring an action for the damage sustained, this case, which we believe to be unprecedented, will soon come before a Jury.12

In the end, Dubost was the loser. In his action for damages, he obtained only £5.

Gilded-wood bench designed by Thomas Hope pre 1807 (9)
Anastasius – the novel that made Byron cry

In 1819, Hope’s novel Anastasius: or, Memoirs of a Greek; written at the close of the eighteenth century, was published anonymously by John Murray. This tale of the immoral adventures of a young Greek was based on his own travels in the Levant. The novel was an instant success and was rumoured to have been written by Lord Byron.

Lady Blessington claimed that Byron was upset that he had not written Anastasius:

Byron spoke today in terms of high commendation of Hope’s ‘Anastasius;’ said that he wept bitterly over many pages of it, and for two reasons – first, that he had not written it, and secondly, that Hope had; for that it was necessary to like a man excessively to pardon his writing such a book – a book, as he said, excelling all recent productions, as much in wit and talent, as in true pathos. He added, that he would have given his two most approved poems to have been the author of ‘Anastasius.’13

Murray persuaded Hope to put his name to the second edition to put an end to speculation.

In the preface to this edition, Hope wrote:

TO you, my LOUISA; to you, the sole partner of all my joys and sorrows; to you, whose fair form but enshrines a mind far fairer, I inscribe not these pages. Composed of materials collected ere I knew you, ere I was inspired by your virtues, or could portray your perfections, they are not worthy of bearing your name: they were not even intended to divulge that of the writer, had his secret been preserved as inviolate as he wished.14

The novel was acclaimed by Sydney Smith, writing for the Edinburgh Review in 1821:

There are few books in the English language which contain passages of greater power, feeling, and eloquence, than this novel, - which delineate frailty and vice with more energy and acuteness, or describe historical scenes with such bold imagery, and such glowing language.15

Smith’s main criticism of the book was its length.

It abounds in eloquent and sublime passage, - in sense, - in knowledge of history, - and in knowledge of human character; but not in wit. It is too long; and, if this novel perishes, and is forgotten, it will be solely on that account.16

He attributes the particularly vivid description of the death of Anastasius’s child to Hope’s own devastation at the loss of his son Charles:

…above all, to the landing of Anastasius with his sick child, and the death of the infant. It is impossible not to see that this last picture is faithfully drawn from a sad and cruel reality.17

Illustration from Anastasius by T Hope (10)
Despite having his name on the cover, many still struggled to believe that Hope had written Anastasius because it was so unlike his other works. Smith wrote:

Mr Hope will excuse us, -- but we could not help exclaiming, in reading it, Is this Mr Thomas Hope? - Is this the man of chairs and tables — the gentleman of sphinxes — the Oedipus of coal boxes-- he who meditated on muffineers and planned pokers? - Where has he hidden all this eloquence and poetry up to this hour? - How is it that he has, all of a sudden, burst out into descriptions which would not disgrace the pen of Tacitus — and displayed a depth of feeling, and a vigour of imagination, which Lord Byron could not excel? We do not shrink from one syllable of this eulogium. The work now before us places him at once in the highest list of eloquent writers, and of superior men.18

Illness and death

Hope became ill and died on 2 February 1831 in his Duchess Street home. He was interred in Deepdene mausoleum.

His estate was inherited by his eldest son Henry and his widow Louisa married her cousin William Carr Beresford, Viscount Beresford, the following year.

I first came across Thomas Hope when investigating a possible miniature of Lady Jersey which had been given to his wife Louisa. You can read about my investigations here.

Detail of pictures

1.       Thomas Hope by Sir William Beechey © NPG 4574 used under a Creative Commons Licence CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.2.

2.       Interior of Thomas Hope’s picture gallery, Duchess Street, London 1825-54 by William Henry Bartlett from the Met Museum DP806018.

3.       Louisa Beresford, Viscountess Beresford (previously Hope), from The Court Magazine and Monthly Critic (1837).

4.       Deepdene from Select Illustrations of the County of Surrey by G F Prosser (1828).

5.       Deepdene from Select Illustrations of the County of Surrey by G F Prosser (1828).

6.       Illustration from Household Furniture and Interior Decoration by T Hope (1807).

7.       Illustration from Household Furniture and Interior Decoration by T Hope (1807).

8.       Grecian female from Costumes of the Ancients by T Hope (1809).

9.       Gilded-wood bench designed by Thomas Hope before 1807 from the Met Museum DP18976-022. This bench may have been part of the furnishings of Deepdene.

10.   Illustration from 1836 edition of Anastasius by Thomas Hope.

Notes

1.     Hassan Khan, Mirza Abul, A Persian at the Court of King George 1809-10, edited by Margaret Morris Cloake (1988).

2.       Ibid.

3.       Ibid.

4.       I have found evidence of Louisa’s baptism on the Family Search website, but not of her subsequent death. She is not mentioned in the article on Viscountess Beresford in The Court Magazine and Monthly Critic (1837) and it seems likely that she died as an infant.

5.       Prosser, George Frederick, Select Illustrations of the County of Surrey (1828).

6.       Ibid.

7.      Orbell, John, Thomas, Hope (1769-1831) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press 2004, updated 2020).

8.      Hassan op cit.

9.      Orbell op cit.

10.   Farington, Joseph, The Farington Diary, edited by James Greig (1922-28).

11.   Ibid.

12.   Ibid.

13.   Blessington, Countess,  A Journal of the Conversations of Lord Byron with the Countess of Blessington (1893).

14.   Hope, Thomas, Anastasius: or, Memoirs of a Greek written at the close of the eighteenth century (2nd edition 1820).

15.   Smith, Sydney, The Works of the Rev Sydney Smith Volume 4 (1840).

16.   Ibid.

17.   Ibid.

18.   Ibid.

Sources used include:

Blessington, Countess,  A Journal of the Conversations of Lord Byron with the Countess of Blessington (1893)

Cust, Lionel, MA and Colvin, Sir Sidney, MA, History of the Society of Dilettanti (1914)

Farington, Joseph, The Farington Diary, edited by James Greig (1922-28)

Hassan Khan, Mirza Abul, A Persian at the Court of King George 1809-10, edited by Margaret Morris Cloake (1988)

Hope, Thomas, Anastasius: or, Memoirs of a Greek written at the close of the eighteenth century (1819)(2nd edition 1820)

Hope, Thomas, Costume of the ancients (1809)

Hope, Thomas, Household Furniture and Interior Decoration (1807)

Orbell, John, Thomas, Hope (1769-1831) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press 2004, updated 2020)

Prosser, George Frederick, Select Illustrations of the County of Surrey (1828)

Smith, Sydney, The Works of the Rev Sydney Smith Volume 4 (1840)

The Court Magazine and Monthly Critic (1837)

Family Search website

Findagrave website

Historic England – Deepdene Mausoleum

The Regency Redingote – Anastasius 

 

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