The Wallace Collection is my favourite museum in the world. Everything in it was bought by people who just loved the objects. I get crushes on others like the Plantin-Moretus Museum in Antwerp but it is the Wallace Collection that has my heart.
What makes the Wallace Collection special
Tucked away behind Selfridges, taking up one side of Manchester Square is the Wallace Collection one of London’s hidden museums. It is a five minute walk from the busy London shopping thoroughfares of Oxford Street and Marylebone High Street, you would expect it to be packed but inexplicably it never is. You can wander round pretending that it is all yours. I used to live just round the corner in a teeny tiny flat and would come here with a book to just sit and read.
Everything in the house was bought because its series of owners liked it rather than because a committee thought that it was important to have it in the collection. The personalities of the five men who amassed the collection shines through. Secreted in one of the cabinets is a series of tobacco graters, tobacco used to be shipped in compressed cakes which then needed grating before you could smoke it – who knew that such a thing was even needed, let alone exist?
What will you find in the Wallace Collection?
Paintings, but you’d expect that. Titian, Rubens, Rembrandt, Hals, Valaquez, Pouissin, Canaletto, Gainsborough, Lawrence, Fragonard, Watteau and Boucher to mention but a few. Marie-Aintoinette’s desk is here. Ceramics ranging from medieval bowls to fine Sevres. Medieval manuscripts. Intricate carved wooden altarpieces. Weapon’s, so many weapons, swords, pikes and pistols. All deadly, all beautiful. Then there is the armour. One of the best collections of armour in the world.
Who created the Wallace Collection?
Five generations of the Hertford family bought things that they loved. The collection was started by the the 1st Marquess of Hertford. The second Marquess bought the family to Hertford House. The 4th Marquess lived mainly in Paris and used Hertford House to store his ever growing collection. Richard Wallace, who was widely thought to be the illegitimate son of the 4th Marquess inherited the collection and set about building a series of galleries at the back where there had once been stables. When he died, his wife ensured that the collection would go on display to the public.
My favourite things
My favourite is by the Dutch painter Bartholomeus van der Helst it shows a prosperous baker, his wife and their daughter. The wife looks at us directly and she is clothed in a stunning silk dress that been painted so well you can almost hear it rustle. Somewhat oddly she is holding aloft a dead hare. This poor beast seems to be falling towards us but symbolises her husband’s hunting prowess and from this we see that, even though they are not aristocratic people, they are wealthy and have just been granted the right to hunt.
The Laughing Cavalier by Frans Hals is neither laughing or a cavalier but he does look very jolly.
I love Dutch Golden Age painting, especially the domestic scenes. The Boy Bringing the Bread by Pieter de Hooch is to me just perfect.
These lovely ladies depicted by Gainsborough are just stunning. One of them is Mrs Mary Robinson, an actress, novelist and all round famous person. She was better known as Perdita and was George IV’s mistress.
It is not just me that loves the Wallace Collection. Henry Moore came here first when he was an art student and continued to visit for the rest of his life. He was especially entranced by the armour and was inspired to create his famous helmet heads from what he saw here. Author Anthony Powell was wandering through the gallery one day and his eye was caught a small Poussin painting entitled “A Dance to the Music of Time”, he pondered on the title. His musings led him to create a 12 volume series of novels named after the painting. If you haven’t read them, do seek them out they are among my favourite books.
Afternoon tea at the Wallace Restaurant
In the very centre of the Wallace Collection you will find the light and airy Wallace Restaurant. Morning coffee, a light lunch or afternoon tea are all on offer and all are equally appealing. It makes an appearance in my Best Museum Cafes post if you care for more inspiration for a cultural cuppa.
Henry Moore Helmet Heads until 23 June 2019
As mentioned above Henry Moore was a regular visitor to the Wallace Collection. The museum’s special exhibition area has gathered together full sequence of Helmet Heads and had them displayed next to the objects that inspired them. If you are a fan of Henry Moore this is not to be missed. Whilst the rest of the gallery is free, you do need to pay for the special exhibitions.
Wallace Collection need to know
- WALLACE COLLECTION Manchester Square W1U 3BU
- Open: Daily 10am-5pm
- Admission: free
- Henry Moore Helmet Heads: Adult £11.50 discounted if you buy online
If you’d like more ideas about entertaining teens take a look at my Free Things to do with Teens in London post. You can hire the Wallace Collection for your wedding, take a look at my other Cultural Wedding Venues. Most of all the Wallace Collection was once a home, if you want to visit other check out my historical London homes to visit post.