If you haven’t visited The Wallace Collection yet, you must put it at the top of your list. It’s a decadent museum set inside the palatial Hertford House in Manchester Square, London W1. Inside you can admire room after room of famous paintings, miniatures, sculptures, ceramics, glass, porcelain, gold boxes and furniture plus a prestigious collection of arms and armour. If you’re looking for free London museums or free London galleries, The Wallace Collection is certainly worth a visit.
Inside Hertford House
The Wallace Collection Museum
Richard Seymour Conway, the fourth Marquess of Hertford left the house and the art to his illegitimate son, Sir Richard Wallace. Lady Wallace, the widow of Sir Richard Wallace, bequeathed the entire collection to the British nation in 1897 and thus Hertford House opened to the public in 1900. It’s a sprawling mansion with an abundance of rooms displaying the art, furniture and decorative objects. This provides a sumptuous setting to present such a splendid selection of antiquities. I just love the fact that one of the conditions of the bequest is that no object should ever leave the collection. This means that it stays entirely intact with not even a candelabra loaned to another gallery.
Inside Hertford House
The European oil paintings adorning the walls from are from the fourteenth to the mid nineteenth century. Artists include Rembrandt, Hals, Titian, Poussin and Velázquez. Perhaps the most famous painting in the collection is the Laughing Cavalier (1624) by Frans Hals which has been described as one of the most brilliant of all Baroque portraits. The mysterious unidentified man in the painting isn’t actually laughing but he does have a big grin and a dashing upturned moustache. It’s such a great painting because others from that era rarely showed anyone smiling. However, Hals was the exception and he didn’t receive the memo about not smiling in one’s formal portrait! You will also see work by French artists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries along with watercolours and miniatures.
The Laughing Cavalier
The ceramics collection includes eighteenth century French Sèvres porcelain, Italian Renaissance Maiolica, Meissen and Chinese Celadon porcelain, medieval pottery from Spain and more. The French Sèvres porcelain is very extensive and was favored by Louis XV and his mistress. Presented on mantelpieces, cabinet tops and individual stands are sculptures in bronze and other materials along with marble busts. You will also see plenty of ornate clocks, decorative boxes and candelabras dotted around the house as you pass through the rooms. Much of which is gold in colour featuring cherubs and lavish designs.
The furniture is quite spectacular and there are over five hundred pieces to view. Much of this is eighteenth century French furniture with a few from the nineteenth century and other countries such as Germany and England. You’ll see veneered cabinets decorated with marquetry along with ostentatious desks, wardrobes, tables, chairs and more with a Rococo flair. Some of the pieces were once owned my Queen Marie-Antoinette so it’s steeped in history. Make sure you look up to the splendid ceilings where you will see the giant chandeliers hanging down.
Inside Hertford House
If you’re interested in armoury and weapons, you’ll find a very extensive collection on the ground floor of over two and a half thousand items. One room houses the European armoury and another the Oriental pieces. Apparently, Parisian society just loved collecting armoury and it was highly fashionable so that’s why you will find it housed here.
The Wallace Collection Restaurant
All that browsing will make you hungry so you might want to sample the refreshments. In the covered courtyard to the back of the ground floor you will find the Peyton and Byrne French-style café and restaurant. The café serves refreshments and a menu featuring quiche with heritage tomatoes, salads, cheese plates, desserts and cakes.
Quiche with Heritage Tomatoes
The restaurant has a more refined offering if you want to push the boat out. The food was yummy but the service was slow on the day we went. To find out more about the menu visit the Peyton and Byrne Website.
The Wallace Collection Information
There is a gift shop on the ground floor where you can buy prints, books, mugs, tableware and many more delightful pieces. To find out more visit The Wallace Collection website. The address is Hertford House, Manchester Square, London W1U 3BN. Bond Street is the closest tube station (Central and Jubilee lines). Oxford Circus (Bakerloo, Central and Victoria lines) and Marble Arch (Central line) are also close by. It is open seven days a week from 10am until 5pm but closes at Christmas from 24-26 December. Entrance is free but do think about giving a donation
Author: Homegirl London. Photographs: Homegirl London. Thanks: Alan for accompanying me.