The Wallace Collection

I have worked at The Wallace Collection as an author/educator, devising and running creative writing sessions, for almost ten years and I am still discovering new items to inspire and delight in this unique and wonderful place.

The Wallace Collection is one of London’s hidden gems: a breath-taking and idiosyncratic collection of some of the world’s finest art and objects on display in Hertford House, a tranquil town house close to Oxford Street in the heart of London.

The collection was assembled in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by five generations of one family: the first four Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace, the illegitimate son of the 4th Marquess. The Collection was bequeathed to the British nation by Lady Wallace in 1897.

Lady Wallace’s will stipulated that the collection:

‘shall be kept together, unmixed with other objects of art, and shall be styled the Wallace Collection.’

She also insisted that the early Louis XV balustrade from Palais Mazarin in Paris should be built in the museum thus leading to the decision by the government of the day to keep the collection in Hertford House. Thank you Lady Wallace! I salute you every time I ascend the wonderful staircase.

This is an open collection which means that the furniture and a significant amount of clocks and porcelain are not roped off or in glass cases, giving you a real sense of the rooms as they were lived in by Sir Richard and Lady Wallace and an opportunity to get as close as you can (without touching!) to such exhibits as Queen Marie-Antoinette’s perfume burner or one of Catherine the Great’s ice–cream coolers. The room attendants are friendly and knowledgeable.

Image Caption
PHOTOGRAPH BY The Wallace Collection

The Collection is probably best known for its paintings by artists such as Canaletto, Titian, Rubens, Rembrandt, Velázquez and of course Frans Hals’ The Laughing Cavalier and Poussin’s Dance to the Music of Time. The latter inspired Anthony Powell’s series of novels. It also has outstanding collections of Dutch seventeenth century paintings and French eighteenth century art, porcelain, furniture and gold boxes. There are also British paintings by Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough and Thomas Lawrence.

Painting gallery
PHOTOGRAPH BY The Wallace Collection

There is also a collection of European arms and armour, which is among the finest in the world, and an equally important collection of Indian, Middle Eastern and Ottoman weaponry. The former includes the field armour of Lord Buckhurst which was ordered in expectation of the arrival of the Spanish Armada in 1588; and the latter a magnificent seventeenth century Mughal dagger with a hilt fashioned from rock crystal inlaid with gold and set with rubies, emeralds and diamonds.

Man on horse
PHOTOGRAPH BY The Wallace Collection

There is a fabulous selection of Medieval and Renaissance art. Particular favourites of mine are the eleventh century shrine Bell of Mura and the fifteenth century fresco of the Young Cicero Reading.

Ornate mirror and paintings
PHOTOGRAPH BY The Wallace Collection

It is free of charge to see the permanent collection although donations are encouraged and there is a charge to see the temporary exhibitions. There are free daily highlights tours and often there are short talks given by curators. There is a restaurant and café in the glass roofed courtyard.

Museum Information

Location Hertford House, Manchester Square, Marylebone, London W1U 3BA

Admission Free of charge to see permanent collection. A charge for temporary exhibitions.

Opening hours Open daily 10-5pm

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Lynda Waterhouse

Lynda is a freelance author/educator with ten published books and many years’ experience devising and running creative workshops for museums and art galleries including The Wallace Collection, The Queen’s Gallery, Windsor Castle, The Royal Mews and Buckingham Palace. Tan Twan Eng, winner of the Man Asian Literary Prize 2012 says, ‘Lynda is a passionate and knowledgeable writer, always generous with her time, expertise and ideas.’ @LWriterhouse