While London may be a city of museums, it’s some of the small ones that I really love. I’ve already written about my visit to the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace and The Wallace Collection is another compact yet concentrated example. Located just off Oxford Street, the amazing museum fills several floors of Hertford House, a 19th century mansion in London’s fancy Marylebone area.
I love museums that are filled with cool stuff, not just great art. The Wallace Collection offers a tantalizing array of fascinating objects, in addition to an impressive collection of 18th century Old Masters. Two of my favorite things to see in museums are fine furniture and porcelain, and the Wallace has some wonderful examples of both. It’s incredible to get up close and personal with Boulle furniture pieces made for and used by Marie Antoinette to see the amazing detail and craftsmanship. The porcelain collection, heavy on Sevres masterpieces, is also one of the best in the world. If weapons are your thing, the museum features one of the greatest collections of armor, suits of armor, guns and other antique implements of violence and death.
The Wallace Collection is also very unique in that it’s the original, intact collection of a single family of collectors, housed in their former London townhouse, displayed as they wished. The collection was assembled over 200 years by the first four Marquesses of Hertford and the fourth Marquess’ son. The widow of the fourth Marquess’ son donated the house and collection to the British people in 1897. An interesting fact I learned researching this article, the collection is a “closed collection,” per the bequest of Lady Wallace. That means nothing can be added, so you really are seeing the intact collection as it was assembled by the family.
Highlights for me were first the Sevres porcelain pieces. The intricacy and the deep, bright colors always surprise me. Second were the incredible furniture pieces, displayed in most cases without any ropes or restrictions from getting really close. It was a great opportunity to really look closely at the amazing workmanship, especially with the parquetry and marquetry work. Last highlight was the art, beautiful masterpieces hung in period rooms amongst the period furniture. And I think that’s the beauty of the whole experience, you are seeing all this art as the collectors wanted you to see it, displayed as they displayed it. It’s not a generic gallery, it’s like visiting someone’s home.
The location, a block from busy Oxford Street (directly behind Selfridges), makes it perfectly situated to fit in with other sightseeing or shopping. The Wallace Collection is open seven days a week, from 10 am to 5 pm (closing for a few days over Christmas). One visiting tip, check on the free guided tours, usually offered twice a day. They’re perfect for providing an overview of the collection and for learning about the masterpieces in each collecting area. The Wallace has some superstar items in each genre: painting, furniture, porcelain, weapons and jewels.
I have to also mention the museum’s restaurant, known formally as The Wallace Restaurant, located in the mansion courtyard, under a glass roof. They serve breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea, but their Friday and Saturday dinner service is one of London’s best-kept foodie secrets. The modern French brasserie cuisine is served under the stars, and is made with the best in British and French ingredients and provisions.
I have to thank the concierge team at The Dorchester for letting me know about The Wallace Collection. When I was staying there, they advised me on some of the local museums, reachable on foot from the hotel.
The Wallace Collection
Hertford House, Manchester Square London, W1