The art on display at the Wallace Collection?
With works by the likes of Gainsborough and Rembrandt, this lavishly-assembled private collection of fine art is housed inside Hertford House, a striking regency townhouse in Marylebone. Originally belonging to the Marquesses of Hertford, the collection was passed down to Richard Wallace (your cue for where the museum’s name came from), who was the illegitimate son of Richard Seymour-Conway, the 4th Marquess of Hertford and one the richest men in Europe (and hence why he could afford to pursue such a hobby). And in 1900 The Wallace Collection was left for us, the public, to enjoy… all for free.
Between them, they’ve managed to amass quite the stash of decorative European art. Richard Seymour-Conway in particular had a fondness for the fancy French stuff, which is what The Wallace Collection is arguably most famous for; a trove that rivals the likes of Musée du Louvre in Paris for Sèvres porcelain and other miscellaneous sparkling gems from 18th-century France. Some of their most prized possessions include the Louis XV baroque furniture pieces (like the bronze chest of drawers once brought to the king’s bedroom at Versailles) and a desk owned by Marie Antoinette.
The Wallace Collection is divided up into five categories: paintings, furniture, sculpture, decorative arts and arms & armour. In total, there’s 28 rooms, interlinked via a grand marble staircase, and each filled with an embarrassment of riches. There’s gilt frames hanging oil paintings from the old masters (you know… Fragonard, Rubens and Frans Hals, whose pièce de résistance The Laughing Cavalier is on a wall here); gold casings that display rare ceramics from the Italian renaissance and treasures from China (feat. Imperial wine cups made for the Qianlong Emperor); and the one that always makes the fantasy buffs go weak at the knees: a 2500-strong stockpile of swords, shields, helmets and suits of armour once worn by the knights of the Ottoman Empire, Indo-Persia and Medieval Europe.
While these make up the permanent collection, there’s a constant flow of temporary exhibitions happening in The Wallace Collection’s lower ground floor – a space that was refurbished back in 2018. They’re usually ticketed separately, but right now you can just pop in to a free one-room display of elegant Turner and Bonington watercolours, on display for the first time in almost two decades (until 21st April 2024).
And if gazing at all the old-world glamour is the kind of thing to work up an appetite, there’s also a classy restaurant that serves up all-day brasserie fare in a pink-hued, glass-roofed atrium.
You could call it fine dining…
NOTE: The Wallace Collection is open daily, 10am-5pm. Entry is free (apart from some of the temporary exhibitions) and you can even view all the descriptions and history briefs behind their collection on their website, here.
The Wallace Collection | Hertford House, Manchester Square, W1U 3BN
Enjoy grand old paintings? There’s plenty more where that came from in this guide to what’s on at London’s best galleries.