Art/Museums logo

The Wallace Collection

A Centennial Celebration of a "legitimately" staggering and "cavalier" world-class art collection

The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, housed in Hertford House in London (photo by Michele Leight)

By Michele Leight

LONDON, Sept. 1, 2000 - In 1870, the reclusive 4th Marquess of Hertford left all his real and personal estate to his illegitimate son, Richard Wallace, upon his death, taking everyone by surprise. He had never publicly recognized Wallace as his son but by way of explanation wrote "…for all the care and attention to my Dear Mother and likewise for his devotedness to me during a long and painful illness…" he willed to him the art collections in London and Paris, Bagatelle, (his chateau outside Paris where the will had been found in the drawer of a writing-table), the Rue Lafitte apartment in Paris, 105 Piccadilly in London and a large estate in Ireland. Not bad, all things considered.

On February 16th, 1897, Amelie-Julie-Charlotte, the French widow of Sir Richard Wallace, died in Hertford House in London, leaving to Britain its largest private bequest – of all time. She had spent the last seven years of her life after her husband's death in the solitary company of her aging dog and her late husband's French-speaking secretary – and the long black cheroots she kept well-stocked and close at hand.

Sir Richard Wallace

Sir Richard Wallace, aged 70, 1888

By any standards, the Wallace Collection is legitimately staggering. It is one of the great secrets of London, often overlooked by tourists, and one of the worlds finest private collections ever assembled by a single family. Following in their tradition, exciting new additions and exhibitions have been planned for the Wallace Collection Centenary Project – June 22nd, 2000 celebrated to the day its 100th anniversary as a national museum.

Construction is almost complete on a 10.6 million pound project. Despite major construction activity, the museum has remained open throughout construction. Architect Rick Mather, together with Ove Arup & Partners and Quantity Surveyors Gardiner & Theobald were selected in 1995 from 3 invited teams. As shown below in the drawing by Andrew Birds, (Copyright the Wallace Collection) the proposed glass roof will transform the courtyard into an all-weather Sculpture Garden. The visual appearance of a late-Victorian courtyard, and the re-instatement of a bronze fountain originally brought by Sir Richard Wallace from his chateau de Bagatelle in Paris will be highlighted by a novel "water feature," given a contemporary twist with additional glass-covered rills allowing a cascade of water to flow from the base of the fountain and down the outline of the stone steps leading to the new basement. A restaurant will be situated in the Sculpture Garden – for day and late-night opening enjoyment. O, to be a Londoner!

Planned all-weather sculpture garden

Drawing by Andrew Birds (Copyright, the Wallace Collection) of the proposed glass roof that will transform the courtyard into an all-weather Sculpture Garden

As if all this was not enough, four new galleries – the Reserve Collection, Watercolor Gallery, Exhibition Gallery and Conservation Gallery – together with a new Study Center (comprising a 150-seat lecture theater), a Seminar Room, an Education Room and a drop-in Library complete the Wallace Collection Centennial Project. From June 22, 2000 – January 7, 2001, the Centenary Exhibition, "Celebrating Five Generations of Collectors," gives fascinating insight into the founders of the collection – the first four Marquesses and Sir Richard Wallace. Letters, caricatures, portraits and documents are featured, including some on loan from The British Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum. (See The City Review article on "London -–The Millenium Projects," for more information on these great institutions.)

Forthcoming treats include the first international loan exhibition, "Queen Victoria and Thomas Sully: An American Painter at Buckingham Palace," January 22, 2001 (the Centenary of Queen Victoria's death) till 29th April 2001, after showing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (September 19 - December 31, 2000). A charming current exhibition of 25 watercolors by Richard Parkes Bonnington (1802-28): Into The Light," complement the ten oils permanently on display in the Housekeepers Room. The watercolors are shown only rarely for conservation reasons, and the Wallace Collection represent the finest group of the artists work in the world

Lady Wallace had never really felt at home in England, where she had lived from the age of 52. The family into which she had married was not short on scandal and she had ridden a roller-coaster from the moment she met Sir Richard Wallace, the illegitimate son of Mrs. Agnes Jackson and Lord Beauchamp (later the 4th Marquess of Hertford). At the age of six, he was carted off to Paris by his mother to find his father. The 4th Marquess took him in, asking his grandmother, the 3rd Marchioness, to take care of him. If the reader is having difficulty keeping track of all this aristocratic libido and country-hopping, it was accepted behavior back then, as long as the unmentionable – divorce – was kept out of the picture. Illegitimate children could not contest a will or claim a revered title – those bloodlines had to be maintained at all costs.

Sir Richard met and began an affair with Amelie-Charlotte when he was 20; she was working in a local perfume shop in Paris. History repeated itself and Amelie-Charlotte gave birth to their illegitimate son, Edmond Richard, in 1840. Unable to bear the name Hertford, Sir Richard baptized himself Richard Wallace two years later – choosing his mother's maiden name.

The 4th Marquess of Hertford clearly did not approve of their union, and it was not until he died, thirty years after they met, that Wallace married Amelie-Julie. His cousin became the 5th Marquess (no illegitimate son could inherit the title) and Sir Richard bought Hertford House from him in 1870. It is no surprise that Lady Wallace was resigned to a sequestered life and some peace and quiet in London after all the years of excitement and turmoil.

The 4th Marquess, who acquired the bulk of the Wallace Collection, bought Bagatelle, a small 18th Century chateau in the Bois de Boulogne in Paris in 1835; Sir Richard had lived in Paris from the age of 6, leaving him more French than English. When the Prussians seized Paris in 1871, Sir Richard moved back to London with his French wife. They moved into the present building in Manchester Square in 1875, after three years of extensive renovations on the house. Ironically, Wallace spent the last three years of his life at Bagatelle, leaving his wife alone at Hertford House. He died in 1890 in the same room and in the same bed at Bagatelle as his father, the 4th Marquess, leaving everything to his French wife residing in England!

The ambiance of this elegant museum is predominantly French, with extraordinary world-class Flemish, Italian and English paintings thrown in for good measure - Frans Hals, Rembrandt, Titian, Rubens, Reynolds and Gainsborough to name only a few of the artists represented.

"The Swing" by Fragonard

"The Swing" by Fragonard

Its French paintings are awesome. Indeed, its "Swing," painted effervescently in 1787 by Jean-Honoré Fragonard is quintessentially French – exuberant, frilly, gorgeous and mischievous. Which other nation would matter-of-factly accept a husband and a lover and the object of their "amour" in the same painting – back in 1767? The beautiful painting also presents something of a jolt as its subject is represented in the great Fragonard room at The Frick Collection in New York, a smaller but also extraordinarily impressive private collection museum.

"The Souvenir" by Fragonard

"The Souvenir" by Fragonard

The Wallace's Fragonards are in the company of the finest Bouchers, Nattiers and Watteaus outside France; the Wallace's own catalog of French paintings circa 1900 (Catalogue of Pictures III, "French before 1815") listed 26 Bouchers, 21 Greuzes, 14 Paters, 11 Lancrets, 9 Watteaus and 8 Fragonards, of which the present catalog questions the attributions of twelve. The National Gallery catalog listed one Boucher, four Greuzes and four Lancrets, with no Fragonards, Watteaus or Paters. All the French paintings (and the Dutch, Flemish, older French and Italian paintings!) were acquired by the 4th Marquess of Hertford ; he also was responsible for the furniture and china, which were "of his time," including pieces which are not only beautiful but of great historical significance as well.

Its leafy location tucked behind the bustle and merchandising of Oxford Street, was a refuge and a delight on a recent warm August afternoon. The new addition of Café Bagatelle in the quiet courtyard of the museum offers the visitor snacks, lunches and the ‘de rigeur’ afternoon teas for which the British are famous. As part of the Wallace's Millenium Project, a glass roof will transform the café into a covered plaza, allowing the space to be enjoyed in all kinds of weather.

Lady reading a letter by Ter Borch

"A Lady Reading a Letter" by Gerard ter Borch, oil on canvas, 44.2 by 32.2 cm, early 1660s

The Wallace collection is rich in many lovely paintings of interiors such as "A Lady Reading a Letter," show above, by Gerard ter Borch (1617-1681), "The Letter Writer Surprised," by Gabriel Metsu (1629-1667), and "A Woman Peeling Apples," by Pieter de Hooch (1629-1684). While the Wallace does not have a Vermeer, these are about as close as you can come and are a superb representation of 17th Century Dutch studies.

The Wallace Collection is also very rich in the works of Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), one of the great virtuosi of composition and color in Western European painting history. Among the great Rubens in the collection at "The Holy Family with Elizabeth and St. John the Baptist," "Christ's Charge to Peter," "The Rainbow Landscape," two versions of "The Adoration of the Magi" and the very dynamic "Defeat and Death of Maxentius."

Other wonderful paintings include "Angel with a Sword" by Hans Memling, "Saint Roch" by Carlo Crivelli (1430/5-1495), and "A Dance to the Music of Time" by Nicholas Poussin (1594-1665), a very fine and lively work.

This is a museum to savor, like good wine, as rushing through it would only deprive you of its real treasures. The collection of Sèvres china is full of charming surprises, and the superb Armories would keep young boys quiet for a while if you wish to take them along; this is the perfect museum to introduce bored teens or disinterested sons to art and culture – its smaller scale and lived-in atmosphere is less intimidating to those approaching art for the first time, or for those who think art is only for over-the-hill parents with no real excitement going on in their lives. Even the most cynical teen would be charmed by Café Bagatelle – equipped with a Walkman and earphones this could be one of the moments they remember for the rest of their lives. According to the museum's website, "The leading French restaurant company Eliance showed faith in this vision by investing in the restaurant and by their ingenious appointment of Stephen Bull as Creative Director," adding that Eliance's "portfolio already includes the Musée du Louvre and the Michelin-starred Jules Verne Restaurant on the second floor of the Eiffel Tower." Café Bagatelle is located in Rick Mather's elegant Sculpture Garden in the heart of the building and has a glass roof and the bronze fountain bought by Sir Richard Wallace from his chateau de Bagatelle in Paris.

Pictorial and sculpted references to Sir Richard and Lady Wallace and their forebears are to be found throughout the collection. "The 3rd Marquess of Hertford," (Francis Charles Seymour-Conway, 1777-1842), painted circa 1823 by Sir Thomas Lawrence portrays the 21-year-old Lord Yarmouth (later the 3rd Marquess), who married "Mie-Mie," the illegitimate daughter of the 4th Duke of Queensbury and an Italian dancer. George Selwyn also claimed to be Mie-Mie’s father (this was before DNA testing), so the lucky girl inherited considerable fortunes from both men. The Seymour-Conways traced their lineage back to Edward Seymour, the Earl of Hartford, and brother of Jane Seymour, Henry VIII's third wife. Edward VI, Jane Seymour's son, would become king in the middle of the 16th Century. To complicate matters even further, "Mie-Mie" gave birth to Lord Henry Seymour in Paris in 1805, who was believed to be the son of Count Casimir de Montrond. The mind boggles at the paternity suits that would be flying around in our day, given the same circumstances! When war broke out between England and France, Lord Yarmouth was interned in Verdun as an enemy alien, returning to England to reside without his wife, a separation that became permanent.

George Hoppner’s "George IV as Prince of Wales," executed by the English portraitist in 1792, was given to Lord Yarmouth by the Prince, known to his friends as "prinny," in 1811. He was a legendary rake, yet managed to show great favor to Lord Yarmouth. The 1st Marquess commissioned Sir Joshua Reynolds, another great English portrait painter, to paint his daughters, "Lady Elisabeth Seymour-Conway," (1784), and "Frances, Countess of Lincoln," (1784). It was Elisabeth's fate never to marry, leaving her sister, Frances, to continue the family line. She gave birth to Richard Seymour-Conway, (1800-70), 4th Marquess of Hertford in 1842 – Sir Richard Wallace's father.

An elegant marble bust of Sir Richard by Emmanuel Hannaux (French, 1899) complements another of Lady Wallace by Auguste Lebourg (French, 1872), and together they bring the family closer to our own time; despite the obvious wealth and privilege of their positions, a quiet benevolence and unpretentious gentility permeate the smooth, expensive marble. When Sir Richard sold their estate at Sudbourne in Suffolk, (the scene of many shooting parties and elegant gatherings), the tenants on their land gave him a very special send-off; they commissioned a local artist, William Symonds, to paint a portrait of him – "Sir Richard Wallace," English, 1885, by William Robert Symonds. The artist noted that Wallace did not actually "sit for the portrait, but preferred to stand with a hand resting on the back of a chair – smoking a cigar…"

In a collection rife with royals from many countries, there is a portrait of "Queen Victoria" by Thomas Sully, American 1838. It shows a newly crowned, rosy-cheeked, pretty young queen – young enough to pass for a girl – with no hint of a reign which lasted till 1901, encompassing a vast Empire under her rule. It is the antithesis of the "formidable dowager" depictions of the same queen as the years and responsibilities took their toll. Sully was commissioned to paint the Queen by an anglophile society in Philadelphia.

In galleries bursting at the seams with history, a painting in the Billiard Room claims attention, initially because of the men with "big hair," or fashionable wigs, but ultimately as a reminder of how fragile life was back then, even for royals – "Madame de Ventadour with portraits of Louis XIV and his heirs," French School, circa 1715-20. Madame de Ventadour was governess to the Royal Children, a position she inherited from her mother, and is credited with having saved the life of the 2-year-old duc d’Anjou, heir to Louis XIV, who is seated. During an epidemic of measles in 1712, she hid the young boy from the royal doctors, thereby sparing him the fatal disease and saving the Bourbon dynasty – the venerable doctors failed to save Louis XV's parents and older brothers, who were claimed by the disease.

Gothic war harness for horse and man, German

Gothic war harness for man and horse, German, circa 1475-90

Switching lanes for moment, it is hard to imagine the Wallace Collection without its magnificent Armories, which Sir Richard considered an integral part of his art collection and displayed the contents accordingly. In the midst of all the fine furniture, objets d’art and Sèvres dinner services, the weapons and armor are an earthy reminder of the blood and guts it took – and the bravery – to uphold or terminate the monarchies and rarified worlds depicted in the paintings. The decadence of pre-Revolutionary France and Russia are elegantly portrayed on canvas; yet it would not be many years before France became a Democracy, beheading their king and his family, for Russia to oust the Romanoffs and overturn their monarchy and for Oliver Cromwell's troops to defeat the Royalists in bloody battles, beheading Charles I along the way.

Richard Wallace acquired the European Armory in 1871 by buying the collections of the compte de Nieuwerke (Napoleon III's Minister of Fine Arts and Director of the Louvre) and Sir Rush Meyrick – the pioneer of the study of arms and armor in England. Weapons used by European knights during the Crusades, French swords which witnessed the Hundred Years War (circa 1460), a Falcion made for Cosimo de Medici (Italian, 1546-9) and a close tournament helmet, by Conrad Richter of Augsberg (circa 1555) for Ferdinand I, (the future Holy Roman Emperor), conjure up images of political intrigue, jousting tournaments and battle-worn warriors returning to their beloveds after years spent in foreign countries.

Two real show-stoppers are the Tudor armor of Lord Buckhurst, 1st Earl of Dorset (English, circa 1587), made in the Royal Workshops in Greenwich established by Henry VIII (begun 16th century) and a breath-taking rapier (Swept-Hilt rapier, English, c.1605-15), which Napoleon Bonaparte carried with him throughout his European campaigns as a "good-luck" mascot. When the imagination ignites, the Armories become a magic-carpet ride through some of the defining moments of history.

"Madame Pompadour" by Boucher

"Madame Pompadour" by Boucher, 91 by 68 cm, 1759

Worlds away from battlefields and broadswords is François Boucher's (1703-1770) portrait of the legendary "Madame Pompadour," one of the crowning glories of the collection. The Wallace Collection's comprehensive "Catalog of Pictures III – French Art Before 1815," available for five pounds), offers illuminating information: "…Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson (1721-64) m. 1741 Ch.-G.-B. Le Normant…created marquise de Pompadour and maitresse en titre to Louis XV (she became a marquise when she became his mistress in other words);…in 1752 accorded the privileges, but not the title, of duchesse…Her lavish patronage of the arts followed the rococo fashion, and for the diversion of the King she created a series of richly decorated and furnished interiors in her chateaux at Crecy (1746), Champs, (1747) and Bellevue (1748-50), and in the Hotel d’Evreux (1753) in Paris…" – a client every decorator dreams of (my own comment).

"…Her vital interest in the Sèvres factory and her extensive patronage of Boucher were amongst her greatest enthusiasms…The 1st Marquis of Hertford, who began the Wallace Collection, met her in Paris in 1763 and found her ‘most polite and obliging, with a great deal more sense and conversation that I expected’…" The Provenance reveals that the 4th Marquis paid 15,000 francs for the painting in the Marigny Sale. Gazing at the portrait one marvels at the creativity of the seamstress; all those frills edged with lace, tiny silk bows and ruches, speak volumes for the fine workmanship of a bygone era.

References to Madame Pompadour and Louis XV continue in the "Back State Room", which is awash with objets "rococo," a term derived from "rocaille," or loose stones. Its asymmetrical, swirling style is captured to perfection in a "Commode," or chest of drawers by the cabinet maker Antoine-Robert Gaudreaus (circa 1680-1751) and Jacques Caffieri (1673-1755), (who made the gilt-bronze mounts) for Louis XV's bedroom in 1739. The commode was privy to the Kings deathbed confession, was inherited by the duc d’Aumont, First Gentleman of the Bedchamber, and must have witnessed the French Revolution. Perhaps a hurried departure from the oncoming hordes was responsible for the loss of its original red and gray marble top.

Sèvres powder-boxes, pomade pots, patch boxes (for those wonderful masques and balls) and clothes brushes are elegant reminders of a life with servants, maids and valets, all dashing about to beautify and groom their wealthy lords and ladies as they dressed for sumptuous balls and fanciful fetes. Jean-Claude Duplessis’s (d. 1774) "Toilet Service," (French, circa 1763) exemplifies his many talents – he was a sculptor, goldsmith and founder and chaser of metal. He worked as a designer at the Sèvres factory, and probably designed all the porcelain shapes made before 1763.

Duplessis inkstand

Inkstand by Jean-Claude Duplessis, 17 by 38 by 27 cm, 1758

For more serious moments there is the wonderful inkstand, shown above, by Jean-Claude Duplessis, from1758, strewn with delicately painted "putti," rose garlands and miniature globes, surmounted by the French Royal Crown. It works artistically because it was created by a Frenchman, and was given by Louis XV to his daughter, Marie-Adelaide. There was a bell inside the crown once, so that the dear girl could ring for a servant to deliver the note she had penned moments earlier…ah, the good life.

Sèvres was situated near Madame de Pompadour’s chateau at Bellevue. In 1756 the Vincennes porcelain factory moved there, and her wish to involve the King in its success resulted in him becoming it sole proprietor, with the right to produce any kind of white porcelain. The factory was nationalized in 1793, having survived the French Revolution – in itself a feat, as all of the objects produced there were destined for the dining rooms and state rooms of the wealthy nobility, or as status symbols of the very society the Revolution sought to abolish.

Furniture, of course, was appropriately ornate and the Wallace Collection has impressive works by André-Charles Boulle (1642-1732), generally recognized as the first great French cabinet maker.

In the Dining Room there are two exquisite portraits of "The Marquise de Belestat," lady-in-waiting to the daughters of Louis XV, (French, 1755) and "The Comtesse de Tillieres" (French, 1755) by Jeanne-Marc Nattier (1685-1766). The marquise is portrayed three-quarter length in the formal robes à la française, in a portrait style repeated many times by Nattier for fashionable ladies of the court. Louis XV had seven daughters; he sent four of them away from Court for their upbringing because they were too expensive to maintain! Marie-Adelaide avoided this fate by clinging to him in tears when asked to leave with them, and he indulged her.

The large drawing room was witness to a grand ball given by the 2nd Marchioness in 1814 to celebrate the defeat of Napoleon, who was languishing in exile on the island of Elba; the guests of honor were the Prince Regent and Britain's allies against Napoleon, the Emperor of Russia and the King of Prussia. It is now hung with the only set of four topographical views of Venice (still together as a series): the Grand Canal with "Riva del vin and the Rialto Bridge," (Italian, 1770-6) is one of them – the historic bridge mentioned by Shakespeare in "The Merchant of Venice,"…"Signior Antonio, many a time and oft in the Rialto you have rated me on my money and my usances… still have I borne it with a patient shrug…for sufferance is the badge of all our tribe…" Shylock’s famous speech about how he felt as a Jew in Venice echoed Shakespeare’s own intuitive and perceptively condemning views on anti-Semitism. It is amazing how an image can fire the imagination, especially a beautiful waterscape like this one.

The West Gallery is the "piece de resistance" for lovers of French art, and contains some of the finest French paintings in the world. 18th Century French painting was the passion/obsession of the 4th Marquess, who lived sequestered with his beloved artworks in his Rue Lafitte apartment in Paris. Highly neurotic and a hypochondriac, "he would not even have drawn back his curtain to see a revolution go past in the street…" noted a friend. He is forgiven all his excesses for allowing us such pleasure, as these paintings are dream-like, escapist, untainted with the realities of everyday existence, which was why he like them. Fortunately he had a formidable bank balance to back his obsession.

Jean-Antoine Watteau's (1684-1721) evocative "The Music Party,"(French, circa 1718), the poetic "Harlequin and Columbine," and the Rubenesque "Gilles and his Family,"(French 1716-18) are to be found in this gallery. Echoes of Rubens in the color, handling and content of "Gilles and his Family" are no accident; around 1708, Watteau joined Claude III Audran, a decorative artist and ‘concierge’ of the luxurious Luxembourg Palace, which then housed the Marie de Medici cycle by Rubens, which Watteau admired enormously.

Further along in time, Jean-Honoré Fragonard's (1732-1806) magical "The Swing," ((French, 1767), "The Souvenir," (c.1776-8) and "Le Petit Parc,"(circa 1764-5), which is evocative of "The Isle of Love" in the Calouste Gulbenkian Collection (See The City Review article on the exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on "Calouste Gulbenkian – 'Objets de Joie'") are a heady accompaniment to a truly mouth-watering visual symphony. This artistically gifted son of a tradesman moved to Paris in 1738, studied briefly under Chardin in 1748 before becoming a pupil of Boucher (1748-52). He garnered the "Prix de Rome" in 1752, but found the academic disciplines of art tiresome. Natoire, a contemporary observer told Marigny that "Fragonard was very talented but impatient, careless in his copies and constantly changing his ideas." Nonetheless, his work is awesome, probably because he marched to his own drum and was not overly concerned with the politics of the academies and societies of his day.

In 1760, Fragonard stayed at the Villa D’Este with the Abbey de Saint-Non and continued to tour Italy with him for the remainder of that year. The theme of picturesque, overgrown Italianate gardens recur in his work, leaving to posterity some of the most poetic and magical landscapes ever painted. (See The City Review article on the Calouste Gulbenkian exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which contains a reproduction of another very fine Fragonard landscape.) We think of Fragonard primarily as a magnificent sketcher of idyllic and very romantic paintings with lovers in lush gardens or beautiful women in their boudoirs or living rooms, but his skill as a landscape painter is often overlooked and is most interesting for its density. Sometimes, he consummately combined these skills as manifested by the set of four panels "The Progress of Love," now in the Frick Collection in New York, and which Madam du Barry rejected in 1773. What was the lady looking for one wonders? They are drop-dead gorgeous and once were in the collection of J. P. Moran, one of history's greatest collectors.

Lady Wallace's private sitting room, or "Boudoir," is hung with many paintings by Greuze (1725-1805), who was greatly admired by the 4th Marquess. While they appear quite sentimental to modern eyes, it is easy to see how their charm and beauty might have influenced Sir Joshua Reynolds (see "Somerset House – London" The City Review), whose "The Strawberry Girl," (English, 1773) and "Mrs. Jane Bowles" (English, 1775) rise above vapid sentimentality to become English classics – rosy cheeks, adorable spaniels – wonderful stuff. This room contains a fascinating gold and carnelian snuff box, commissioned by Voltaire after the death of his Mistress, the Marquise du Chatelet; miniature portraits of them both slide out from the base in a romantic gesture of hide-and-seek. (Johann-Christian Neuber, Snuff Box, German, circa 1770-5).

"The Great Gallery," which could also be called the "Grand Finale," as its name implies, contains masterpieces of world renown, and is a testimonial to the 4th Marquess’ connoisseurship. In an age that favored Renaissance art, he chose to collect paintings of the finest quality by 17th and 18th century artists. Among the jewels are Peter Paul Rubens's "The Rainbow Landscape," (Flemish, circa 1636), an idealized vision of a real landscape where the 58-year-old painter bought a country chateau – and happily spent the rest of his life with his beautiful and voluptuous young second wife, Helene Fourment, who he had married when she was 16 (See The City Review article on Metropolitan Museum's exhibtion on "Calouste Gulbenkian – Objets de Joie," for more Rubens and a reproduction of a fine portrait of Helene.) Rubens, of course, is one of history's most remarkable artists whose fabulous technique was matched by his incredibly dynamic compositions.

"The Laughing Cavalier" by Frans Hals

"The Laughing Cavalier" by Frans Hals, oil on canvas, 83 by 67 cm, 1624

"The Laughing Cavalier," by Frans Hals (Dutch, 1582/3-1666), shown above, is so famous it was wonderful to feel a tingle of excitement despite the familiarity of the image; his strange expression is neither a laugh or a smile, and he is not a cavalier according to the Wallace Collection catalog. In 1865, when the painting came up for sale, few had heard of Hals. The 4th Marquess, determined to have it, bid against his good friend Baron de Rothschild and won it at a price – six times that of the sale estimate. Its fame spread, Hals was re-instated as a major artist, and the painting became an icon. At his best, as here, Hals brings great gusto and freshness to his subjects as well as bravura brushwork that significantly predates the Impressionists.

Gainsborough, Velasquez, Poussin and Van Dyck jostle for position, with Titian’s "Perseus and Andromeda," (Italian, 1553-62) and Rembrandt's fifteen-year-old son "Titus," (circa 1657) stealing the show. In 1890, there were twelve Rembrandts in the Wallace Collection, but by 1990 there was only "Titus," painted a year after the artist was declared bankrupt.

"A Young Archer" by Govert Flink, oak panel, 66.2 by 50.8 cm, circa 1640

Controversies over authenticity accounted for the re-attributions of several works. Five paintings formerly attributed to Rembrandt were changed: "Portrait of an Elderly Woman" by Backer, "The Unmerciful Servant" by Drost, "The Good Samaritan" by Govert Flinck and the remarkable "A Young Negro Archer" also by Govert Flinck (1615-1660), shown above. Drost was a pupil of Rembrandt on or before 1650. Flinck trained in Lewwwarden but joined Rembrandt's studio in 1633 at the age of 17. Bol trained in Doedrecht and joined Rembrandt's studio in 1637 at the age of 19. The remaining 6 paintings re-attributed to "Circle of Rembrandt," "Imitator of Rembrandt," "After Rembrandt," and "Landscape with a Coach" was "ascribed to Rembrandt." Only "Titus," a fine version of a series of portraits the artist did of his son, retained its original attribution to Rembrandt.

It is the continuous procession of "choice" masterpieces that make the Wallace an awe-inspiring experience, especially of the 4th Marquess’ connoisseurship.

"St. Catherine" by Cima da Conegliano

"St. Catherine" by Giovanni Battista Cima da Conegliano, oak panel, 152 x 78 cm, circa 1500

Among the many superb Old Master paintings in the collection are the marvelous Bellineseque "St. Catherine" by Giovanni Battista Cima da Conegliano (1459/60-1517/8), shown above, and excellent works by Bernardo Luini, Canaletto, Guardi, and Greuze.

Lady Wallace bequeathed all the contents of the ground and first floors to the British nation, and the rest to her late husband's secretary, John Murray-Scott, which held as rich a treasure trove of French furniture as the present Wallace Collection, but is now scattered across the world.

The Reserve Collection, housed in the lower ground floor, lays open the vaults and drawers for further exploration, and confidently expose infrequent mistakes. One famous vault is devoted to fakes and forgeries. By the terms of the will, nothing was to be added or taken away from the Wallace Collection and that has been honored to this day, unlike some other famous private collections. Only in recent decades have other museums, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, made serious efforts to show more of their collections in their limited spaces and these "reserve" collections are usually quite fascinating and offer opportunities to match wits with curators' choices for the main exhibition galleries. They also reinforce the education of a connoisseur. (See The City Review article on attributions.)

If you, or the youngsters, are curious about the process involved in antiquing armor, gilding on metal or the techniques of Boulle marquetry, rush to the Conservation Gallery, also on the lower ground floor. You may be given the opportunity to try on an English Civil War helmet or brandish a sword from the 16th Century. More museums should have such educational and fun exhibits.

"The Rising Sun" by Boucher

"The Rising Sun" by Boucher

Should you need one last French "fix" before departing, you will find it up on the Landing, which is festooned with Boucher's "The Rising Sun," (1753), shown above, and the "The Setting Sun," (1753) – there is enough rosy-fleshed nakedness and abandon here to send you merrily on your way. A commentator at the Salon of 1753 complained that one should not take one's wife or daughter – the excessive nudity was so shocking! If the guns and armor fail with the kids, nudity always works, especially these graceful and very beautiful naked bodies that stop short of titillation but not delight in the feminine physique, if not mystique.

The Museum's gift shop is a treasure trove of reproductions, decorative items for the home and wonderful books, the most impressive of which are the Wallace Collection's own Catalogue of Pictures, divided by style and period (i.e. Catalog III, "French art before 1815") etc. A "must" before negotiating the intricacies of this collection is the "Guide to the Wallace Collection," published by the Trustees of the Wallace Collection, 2000, 5 pounds. It places the objects and paintings in the context of their time, whilst offering juicy historical and family gossip to balance the seriousness and importance of the art, with many color illustrations, on offer. With the shopping done, there is the elegant Café Bagatelle conveniently on hand for a quiet cup of tea.

During World War II, Hertford House, the home of the Wallace Collection, narrowly escaped destruction by bombing but fortunately its art collections had already been evacuated.

This wonderful museum is open from 10 AM to 5 PM Mondays through Saturdays and from noon to 5 PM on Sundays, but is closed on December 24, 25, 26 and 31 and January 1 and 2, Good Friday and May Day Bank holiday. Admission is free.

"Harvest of Innocence," a book on coping with risky behavior by Michele Leight, is at and at

The Wallace Collection has an excellent website with an on-line catalogue at

Use the Search Box below to quickly look up articles at this site on specific artists, architects, authors, buildings and other subjects


Home Page of The City Review

©The City Review Inc 2000. Written permission to use any part of this article must be obtained in writing from The City Review or Michele Leight