Thomas Hope (1769–1831)

Hope was a serious collector of classical antiquities whose knowledge and expertise added considerably to late 18th century neo-classical culture. He was a patron of artists, particularly of sculptor Antonio Canova’s pupil Bertel Thorvaldson, and of history paintings by Benjamin West, Richard Westall and Benjamin Haydon. His role in the neo-classical movement, as an arbiter of taste, was therefore considerable. However, despite working hard at fitting into establishment society, becoming a member of many learned societies and sitting on a number of eminent committees, he was always considered a bit eccentric.

 In truth, Hope was not really considered a true Englishman, as he came from a successful family of bankers resident in Amsterdam. With their vast wealth, they traditionally collected art and Hope, on his majority, did not enter the family business; when aged 18 he embarked on a lifetime of travel and study of style, particularly of classical civilization. During his Grand Tour through Europe, Asia and Africa, Hope’s interests lay especially in architecture and sculpture, and he acquired a large collection of artefacts which had attracted his attention.

 When, in 1794, the upheavals of the French revolution threatened their life on the continent Thomas and his brothers moved to London, setting up residence in Duchess Street off Cavendish Square. Hope fitted the house out elaborately from his own drawings, each room styled to suit the collection he had amassed to create a ‘visual totality’. He constructed three galleries to display the 750 vases from southern Italy which he had purchased, for some £5,000, from Sir William Hamilton's second vase collection. By 1806 the displays had expanded to accommodate 1500 antique vases, and included a copy of Wedgwood’s Portland Vase. Hope had given the seal of approval by appearing on the list of subscribers and his edition is considered one of the finest examples. It is on display at the Wedgwood Museum.

 Hope’s interest in neo-classicism extended to include influences from Egypt and the Near East. In 1807 he published sketches of his furniture in Household Furniture and Interior Decoration, which was influential in bringing about a change in the upholstery and decoration of houses. By this time interior design was becoming more eclectic – often a mixture of Egyptian, Greek and Roman – in a style sometimes called English Empire. In 1809 Hope published Costumes of the Ancients, and in 1812 Designs of Modern Costumes, works which display a large amount of antiquarian research. 

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Thomas Hope was a subscriber to the first edition of the Portland Vase, made in 1793. His copy, cons

Thomas Hope was a subscriber to the first edition of the Portland Vase, made in 1793. His copy, cons