Since we’d already seen most of London’s main museums and galleries, we were looking for something different--and found it. The Wallace Collection is a gem, relatively small but excellent.
To get to Hertford House, we took the tube to Oxford Street, from where we walked till Selfridge’s and then turned right, onto Duke Street. Manchester Square is about 5-minute walk from Selfridge’s, on Duke Street.
The collection was largely acquired in the 1800’s by Sir Richard Wallace and the 3rd and 4th Marquesses of Hertford. Today, this display of paintings, sculpture, furniture, porcelain, enamelware, religious icons, and more spreads across 25 galleries. The best part is that everything’s a work of art--you’d think you were back in Regency England. Nearly all the chandeliers, mirrors, mantelpieces, and carved furniture date back to the Renaissance or the 1800’s. If you want to see the Wallace Collection really well, set apart about four hours.
Among the works on display, the ones I liked best were:
1. The porcelain collection. This includes extremely colourful lead-glazed earthenware from France; Spanish tin-glazed earthenware; and Italian maiolica. There’s a fine service of Sèvres china, embellished with a floral pattern and green ribbons.
2. The snuffbox collection. Crafted from gold, silver, and other metals, these are decorated with everything from enamel to semi-precious stones.
3. The portraits by Joshua Reynolds. I’ve always been a fan of Reynolds, and the Wallace Collection has a sizable number of them scattered across the galleries. Look out for the The Strawberry Girl, of a small child clutching a basket of strawberries. You can almost feel the softness of the girl’s cheek and sense her shyness!
4. The Augsburg Service, a set of gilded items including articles for the toilette and breakfast of an unknown lady of Quality. Interesting, and beautiful.
5. The Marie Antoinette collection, which contains paintings, furniture, a clock and other items bought when the belongings of the guillotined French Empress were auctioned off. The framed notice of the auction is also part of the collection.
6. The paintings. Besides Reynolds, there are other European masters here: Rembrandt, Rubens, Boucher, Fragonard, Thomas Gainsborough, and Champaigne- whose `Adoration of the Magi’ is particularly arresting. Nearly all the light in the picture, shining on the faces round about, emanates from the Holy Infant. Among the other works, do look out for the tiny, exquisite paintings of a mother with her children, by Delaroche; and the awesome light-and-shade of Meissonier’s pictures. His depiction of two travellers, mounted on horses in the dappled shade of trees, which is a beauty.
7. And- though this also is a painting, but it merits being set apart from the rest- Frans Hals’s The Laughing Cavalier. There’s a cynicism about the cavalier’s smile that’s just perfect!
All in all, the Wallace Collection is a must-see for anyone who’s into classic art.
The Wallace Collection is open daily from 10 to 5. Entry is free. There’s a shop that sells catalogues, posters, and the like--and there’s a café.