The Thorvaldsens Museum Archives

The Fate of Jason - On Thomas Hope, His Houses and Hobbies

  • Margrethe Floryan, arkivet.thorvaldsensmuseum.dk, 2003
  • This is a re-publication of the article:

    Margrethe Floryan: ‘The Fate of Jason – On Thomas Hope, His Houses and Hobbies’, in: Meddelelser fra Thorvaldsens Museum (Communications from the Thorvaldsens Museum) p. 2003, p. 42-73.

    For a presentation of the article in its original appearance in Danish, please see this facsimile scan.

Summary

The Fate of Jason – On Thomas Hope, His Houses and Hobbies

“In the centre is a copy of the Florentine Boar, one of the five celebrated animals of antiquity, of which it is impossible to speak in terms of sufficient praise; sculpture is in this figure carried to the highest perfection. Beside the boar is a statue of the Gladiator, in bronze; behind which, in a circular recess, is an Egyptian figure in alabaster fureto. On each side, and on pedestals ranged in order against the sides of the apartment, are antique china jars, &c. In a semicircular recess at the other end of the room is a colossal marble statue of Jason, by Thorvaldsen: near a table inlaid with variegated marbles.” (G. F. Prosser, 1828). Such is a contemporary description of the newly established Gallery of Sculptures at Thomas Hope’s country house of Deepdene.

Thomas Hope was the patron of the arts who ensured Thorvaldsen’s continued stay in Rome when the scholarship from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts came to an end. This was in March 1803, and Hope’s interest was centred on the model for a monumental figure of Jason on which Thorvaldsen has been working for months. 25 years later, the work was placed in Hope’s country house, Deepdene, among scores of other works in marble, both contemporary and ancient, and with decorative and perfumed orange trees as the immediate neighbours to the recently established sculpture gallery.

Thorvaldsen never again had such an ambitious, determined, imaginative and enterprising patron, and yet Thomas Hope has never been accorded his rightful place in the otherwise very extensive literature on Thorvaldsen, least of all in Danish studies of the sculptor. With support from the international publications on Thomas Hope, his role as an art connoisseur, collector, writer and interior designer (Sandor Baumgarten 1958; David Watkin, 1968, Peter Thornton & David Watkin, 1987; Geoffrey B. Waywell, 2001) and introducing source material such as the correspondence between Thorvaldsen and Hope, Hope’s writings and other works from the period, this article provides an account of Hope’s interest in and staging of works by Thorvaldsen.

The following aspects are analysed more closely: the contract for Jason from March 1803; Hope’s rebuilding of his property in Duchess Street in London as a “shrine” and a “museum”; Flaxman’s bust of Thomas Hope’s brother Henry Philip Hope, now in Thorvaldsens Museum; the rebuilding of the country house, Deepdene, including Hope’s interpretation of the picturesque, the interplay between classical and modern collections, and the positioning of the altogether ten works by Thorvaldsen (in addition to Jason these were Psyche and The Shepherd Boy, both in marble, four busts of members of the Hope family, also in marble, and two marble and a single bronze relief, all with allegorical motifs). The activity of for instance Prince Herman Pückler-Muskau is seen in perspective, and this section is rounded off with an account of how the art collector, graphic artist, author, globe trotter and landscape gardener Hope commissioned statues including that of Jason for a setting marked by an ecleticism bordering on the cultic, the most distinguished connoisseurship and an infectious sense of the abundance and charm of nature.

After this, an account is provided of how the collections in Deepdene were split up and how Thorvaldsens Museum acquired nine of the ten works by Thorvaldsen along with the bust by Flaxman. For Thorvaldsens Museum, the purchase of works in marble had become a major preoccupation in connection with the changes in the museum’s charter in 1916. The museum finally put an end to the practice by which, since the 1840s, the management committee of the museum ordered that copies should be made in marble where such works were missing. A fund for purchasing was established, partly including resources from the “Establishment Fund” that Thorvaldsen had set up in extension of his so-called “Deed of Gift to the City of Copenhagen and Testament” . Facts from auction catalogues are included.

In 1920, Jason was assigned his first place in the Museum, proudly positioned in the Entrance Hall in the midst of several of Thorvaldsen’s largest monuments and on the same axis as Thorvaldsen’s tomb and the statue of Christ. Since 1940, Jason has stood in Gallery 5 of the Museum on the ground floor. The reason for the move was that the marble copy after Thorvaldsen’s Jason, which the Museum’s management committee had commissioned the sculptor B. L. Bergslien to make under the supervision of H.W. Bissen between 1861 and 1862 and placed in Gallery 5 in 1862, had been transferred to Copenhagen Town Hall in 1938. This made room for the statue of Jason from the Hope collection, and the work fits into the Museum’s suite of small galleries, each dedicated to a major work. But with this the work has been assigned anything but the place in the Museum intended during the first phases of planning – cf. the architect M. G. Bindesbøll’s approved plan from 1839 – and Jason emerges far more anonymously than is justified by the statue’s significance.

Finally, there is a summary of both Thorvaldsen’s works for other British patrons (with reference to the most recent edition of Gunni’s Dictionary of British Artists) and British artists’ represented in Thorvaldsen’s own collection of art (especially George Wallis).

Last updated 11.05.2017