Once hung above the door in Walpole’s garden cottage at Strawberry Hill House, the fresco was bought by Walpole from Conyers Middleton’s collection. It depicts a woman’s head, crowned with flowers, floating about a banquet scene with a river god. X-ray and raking light testing have proved the panel is a genuine artefact from ca. 2nd century CE Rome with 18th century restorations.
The fresco together with numerous other treasures from Walpole’s astonishing collection of art and antiquities has remained untraced since it was sold at Strawberry Hill’s Great Sale of 1842. Thanks to the efforts of art historian, Silvia Davoli, who is curating an exhibition of Walpole’s ‘Lost Treasures’, the missing fresco has resurfaced after almost 200 years.
Silvia had been working to no end on tracking down the antique objects from Walpole’s collection when a chance meeting with the Head of Sotheby’s Department of Ancient Sculpture and Works of Art, Florent Heintz reversed her fortunes. Just two weeks before Silvia contacted Dr Heintz, a Sotheby’s client brought a piece of Grand Tour souvenir into the auction house’s New York office for his assessment. Dr Heintz had turned down the fresco on stucco due to the heavy 18th century over-painting.
That was before Silvia sent Dr Heintz a 1745 engraving of the missing fresco. Dr Heintz’s photographic memory instantly recalled the panel he had rejected and whose design perfectly matched Silvia’s engraving. A lost treasure had been rediscovered and Dr Heintz contacted the owner to confess he “may have been too hasty” in his original assessment of the souvenir.
The panel is estimated to fetch £15,000 when it goes to auction this month.