One of the great country houses and emblematic of Palladian architecture, Houghton Hall will figure in any survey of the history of English taste. It was built between 1722-1735 and represents an inflection point in the evolution of stately homes, away from the aggravated grandeur of the Baroque towards a more restrained, Neo-classical style. More palatial than the typical country “seat”, Houghton’s fame is linked to that of its first owner, Sir Robert Walpole (1676-1745), who was also the first prime minister of England in the modern sense of the term, as well as the former home of a fabled picture collection. Sir Robert intended that his collection be an inalienable part of Houghton, but the extravagance of the Walpole family meant that it was sold to the Russian Empress Catherine the Great in 1779. The sale caused an outcry in England, but the paintings became the cornerstone of the great Russian institution known as the State Hermitage Museum. Now, almost miraculously, some sixty paintings from this historic collection have returned to Houghton for six months, enabling visitors to see the interiors as Sir Robert Walpole intended.