The building in which a private collection is housed is often as artistically appealing as the artifacts within it. Such is the case with The Wallace Collection in Hertford House, a palatial, central London townhouse originally designed for the 4th Duke of Manchester between 1776 and 1788 by architect Joshua Brown. The Collection is displayed in lushly decorated period rooms, indicative of how the former inhabitants of the house lived their lives.
The collection itself was acquired by the first four Marquesses and Sir Richard Wallace, descendants of Edward Seymour, brother of Jane Seymour, third wife of King Henry VIII, between 1760 and 1880. Sir Richard, the illegitimate son of the 4th Marquess, inherited the Marquess’s estate but not his title. Wallace often bought whole collections such as all Napoleon III’s fine art collection.
Upon her death in 1897, Sir Richard’s widow, Lady Wallace, bequeathed the entire Wallace collection to the British nation as a “closed collection”, a proviso that stipulates that the collection be kept intact in perpetuity with nothing ever added or removed, not even on loan. The remainder of Lady Wallace’s estate was left to her secretary, Sir John Murray Scott, who sold the lease of Hertford House to the British Government and then became a trustee of the collection when it opened to the public as a museum on June 22, 1900.
Today The Wallace Collection in Hertford House has 25 spectacular galleries in which to display its 5,500 objects: Old Master and 18th century French paintings, miniatures, ceramics, glass, sculpture, arms, armor, Meissen, Chinese and Sevres porcelain, such as Catherine the Great’s Sèvres ice cream service, gold boxes and 500 pieces of exquisite English, French and German furniture such as a secrétaire by Riesener, a wardrobe by Boule, and several unique pieces that once belonged to Marie Antoinette.
The paintings represent the very best works of British, German, Spanish, Italian, Dutch and Flemish schools: Gainsborough, Turner, Reynolds, Murillo, Velasquez, Canaletto, Titian, Rembrandt, Boucher, Poussin, and Watteau to name but a few. Two striking pieces are Frans Hals’s renowned “The Laughing Cavalier” and Jean-Honore Fragonard’s “The Swing”.
For ancient warfare enthusiasts there is a basement full of authentic 13th to 18th century Oriental, Middle Eastern and European armory. Knights in full armor sit on their fully-armored horses with various weapons of war: daggers, swords, battle-axes, spears, crossbows and rifles. Many of these are richly decorated with inlaid semi-precious stones and precious metals.
Hertford House, Manchester Square, London, W1U 3BN, England
Telephone: 44 207 563 9500
Admission and Guided Tours: Free
Hours: Daily from 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 a.m.