The Wallace Collection

One day Richard Wallace found out two things that changed his life–that he was the illegitimate son of the Fourth Marquess of Hertford and that he was the heir to an invaluable collection of antiques, including paintings by Titian, Frans Hals, and Rubens. He worked as a secretary for the Marquess, but discovering the true nature of their relation was a shock.  When he inherited his father’s collection, the apartment in the rue Laffitte, the chateau of Bagatelle, and the estates in Ireland, he was living in Paris. He married Julie Castelnau, a former perfume seller, and set about taking care of the collection. It was to become his life’s work.

wallace

The Franco-German war of 1870-71 and the uprising of the Commune precipitated his move to London, and that’s where his collection currently resides. What is more, its treasures are available to visitors free of charge; Lady Wallace bequeathed most of the collection to the nation.

The Wallace Collection is located in Hertford House in central London. The mansion itself is beautiful, but the paintings–64 works by Old Masters alone–are the star attractions. You can see art by Rembrandt, Canaletto, Gainsborough, Turner, Lawrence, Watteau, Boucher, Velàzquez, Hals’s The Laughing Cavalier, Poussin’s A Dance to the Music of Time, among many others. Its collection of French eighteenth-century paintings is one of the finest in the world. The Wallace Collection seems to be somewhat of a hidden gem, and with so many excellent museums within the city limits it has much competition, but if you’re visiting London, please don’t miss it.

Since the museum is prohibited from lending its works, if you want to see Fragonard’s The Swing, a rococo masterpiece, you have to come to Hertford House. Another draw for perfume lovers is that some of the best fragrance selection in London can be found at Selfridges store just a short walk from the museum.

The Wallace Collection
Hertford House
Manchester Square
London
W1U 3BN
United Kingdom
Telephone +44 (0)207 563 9500
Free Admission including temporary exhibitions.
Open daily from 10am – 5pm.
The Wallace Collection is open all Public Holidays 10 – 5pm, except 24 – 26 December
www.wallacecollection.org

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49 Comments

  • Natalia: London is my favorite place in the world. (I love it that Lady Wallace bequethead the collection to the nation.)
    I can remember myself as a child lost in Selfridges trying to choose a perfume. I had that one chance to get a perfume for me for the first time ever (I was 11), can you imagine how lost I was trying everything in each wonderful counter? It was amazing and exasperating. I ended up choosing Anais Anais and I dont regret it, I still wear it till today. I always have to have a bottle of it, you know, to remember the good times… October 17, 2014 at 7:27am Reply

    • Victoria: London is really incredible, and if you love art and museums, few cities can rival it for the amount of venues and the accessibility (ie, free admission).

      I have always loved Selfridges for its genteel air. The last time I was there last winter, I was amazed by the variety of perfume and makeup lines. For those who love makeup, and especially Asian lines, nothing beats Suqqu for me. Their eyeshadows and brushes are the best I have tried. And outside of Japan, only Selfridges carries this brand. October 17, 2014 at 7:55am Reply

  • Marsha: How incredibly fascinating! I am kind of surprised that he was able to inherit due to his illegitimacy. October 17, 2014 at 7:47am Reply

    • Victoria: His father made him an heir, because he felt that he would take care of the collection well. There were other legitimate heirs, but they accepted the will. It’s a somewhat complicated story, but this seems to be the gist of it. October 17, 2014 at 7:57am Reply

      • George: It seems somewhat Downton Abbey: there was an entail, and everything under the entail was passed to the nearest legitimate male heir, and “everything” not covered by the entail was passed to him. The family name of the father incidentally is Seymour-Conway, which indicates their descendancy from the brother of Jane Seymour, one of Henry the Eighth’s wives. There’s also an illegitimate descendancy from Charles II too. October 17, 2014 at 3:55pm Reply

        • Victoria: Ah, yes, the entail! I’m immediately thinking “Pride & Prejudice.” October 20, 2014 at 9:38am Reply

  • Aurora: Victoria such a good surprise to see this post on this museum which is maybe my favourite one in London, and as you say a little bit out of the way.

    You mention The Swing : aren’t the nuances on her pink dress and white petticoats wonderful and the little slippers! I find like you the collection of paintings wonderful it’s a sort of Frick Collection for London.

    Also the porcelaine collection – if one is interested – is very fine and the furniture in you beautiful photo: some of it comes originally from Versailles (La Duchesse de Berry’s dressing table) and it’s fun it’s landed here. October 17, 2014 at 7:59am Reply

    • Victoria: I love the Frick Museum. In fact, I love it so much that I invited my husband to go there for our first official date. 🙂

      Yes, the nuances of pink in The Swing are amazing, and I can only agree with George. Having experienced the rose harvest in Grasse this spring, I’m beginning to understand Fragonard’s inspirations better. October 17, 2014 at 8:23am Reply

      • Aurora: How romantic! October 17, 2014 at 9:33am Reply

    • OperaFan: I was thinking the same thing, too. The Frick Collection is my favorite art museum – so compact, and every piece within is a masterpiece. I haven’t been there in many years and the admission has skyrocketed. I still want to go back someday.

      Must keep the Wallace in mind if I ever get to visit London again.

      Thank you for this, Victoria, and have a lovely weekend! October 17, 2014 at 9:27am Reply

      • Victoria: And I heard the Frick is doing some sort of renovation, which was criticised widely. I haven’t been there in ages. October 17, 2014 at 11:03am Reply

        • Ariane: There is much consternation about their expansion plan that would destroy the lovely Russell Page garden. There is a petition to save it here:
          http://unitetosavethefrick.org
          Ariane October 17, 2014 at 6:53pm Reply

          • Victoria: I signed it! I can’t believe they want to do that. October 20, 2014 at 9:41am Reply

  • George: Love the Wallace Collection. Some great paintings! and so over the top! It is rococo a go-go! They recently redid the main gallery (the ballroom) have you been since then? I last went about a six months to a year ago whilst it was being completed. Also notably good for perfume locally are Marylebone High Street, which has a le labo store off of it, and about the same distance in the other direction is the Seymour place shop of Les Senteurs. Other less well known places always worth visiting are the Hunterian, The Wellcome Collection (both of which are free) and the British Library (which currently has a paying exhibition on the Gothic, which looks like a must- https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10152769368482139.1073741884.8579062138&type=1 ). It’s great that there are so many places to visit in London, and with the constant updating of exhibitions one never feels like one is running out of things to see. October 17, 2014 at 8:05am Reply

    • George: I always feel that the Fragonard petaline style much come from seeing floors full of them when he grew up in Grasse, October 17, 2014 at 8:09am Reply

      • Victoria: True! Few painters do all of these rose shades as well as he does. October 17, 2014 at 9:05am Reply

    • Victoria: I haven’t been since the renovation, but I read about it recently, and this is what inspired me to mention the Wallace Collection. It’s definitely the place for those who love French arts–paintings, sculpture, porcelain, furniture. An exceptional collection, really.

      You’re spoiled for choice of cultural activities in London! October 17, 2014 at 9:04am Reply

  • Aisha: I haven’t been to London since I was 16, and I doubt I’ll be able to visit in the near future. I know it’s not the same, but thank goodness for the internet. I can view some of the collection online. 🙂 October 17, 2014 at 9:43am Reply

    • Victoria: Internet definitely made it all more accessible! There are some museums I long to visit like The Hermitage in St Petersburg, but since that is not likely to happen, I can at least view their collection online. October 17, 2014 at 11:05am Reply

      • Hamamelis: The Hermitage in Amsterdam is quite nice Victoria, did you visit it? I have been there once, and plan to visit again it soon, and the new Rijksmuseum too. October 17, 2014 at 4:57pm Reply

        • Cornelia Blimber: Hi Hamamelis! Don’t go too soon to the Rijksmuseum! Two of the best paintings are in London for a while: De Staalmeesters (my favourite) and Het Joodse Bruidje.
          But in the beginning of 2015 we will have a big Rembrandt Exposition. October 17, 2014 at 5:13pm Reply

          • Hamamelis: Thank you so much Cornelia. ..I have a mini holiday planned half november in Adam (also perfume sniffing!)…I don’t know after that when I will visit again, may take a while. Did you see the Dining with Tsars in Hermitage? Any tips to spend these 2 days are very much appreciated, I am with my husband who is a good sport conc. my new hobby but he should have a good time too! October 18, 2014 at 3:34am Reply

            • Cornelia Blimber: Hi Hamamelis!
              You could go to the Tassenmuseum Hendrikje. Amazing collection of old and new handbags. In one of the vitrines there is a vintage bottle of Miss Dior turing brown. Aiii! They have an exposition ”Forever Vintage” now. The building is beautiful and you can have a High Tea or lunch in the Stijlkamer. (Herengracht 573 achter het Rembrandtplein)

              The Bijbels Museum have a collection of perfumes from the Bible to sniff. (Herengracht366)

              Skins have a shop in the Conservatoriumhotel, opposite to the Van Goghmuseum

              De Bijenkorf carries the Hermès perfumes collection

              In the Hortus Botanicus you can smell lots of herbs (included real patchouli) and eat marvellous cake. (Plantage Middenlaan 2)

              For a complete list of perfume shops in A’dam: visit the blog of The Noble Nose.

              Have fun!! October 18, 2014 at 4:44am Reply

              • Hamamelis: Thank you so much for this, lovely :). I never would think of visiting the Bijbelmuseum and ancient perfume is one of my interests! Also the Hortus suggestion is spot on as when (rarely) we visit a city and there is one, that is where we often end up…I was looking for a really nice hotel with spa facilities and the Conservatorium was number 1 on my list, and now I will book us there (one night though…). Voorpret begins! October 18, 2014 at 5:10am Reply

                • Hamamelis: PS and I will try to get my husband to the Tassen museum, a really new territory for both of us provincialen ; ) ! October 18, 2014 at 5:13am Reply

                  • Cornelia Blimber: Good! Every Friday there is a Boekenmarkt op het Spui. You can see there lots of books and odd people! October 18, 2014 at 7:09am Reply

        • Victoria: I don’t think I have. I’ve only been to Amsterdam 2 or 3 times, and although we pretty much did nothing but visit museums (the weather was horrible when we visited), we still have a lot to cover. I’m jotting down all of the recommendations Cornelia is giving you. October 20, 2014 at 9:39am Reply

          • Hamamelis: I think you may really like the Hermitage in Amsterdam, it is an official dependance of the st Petersburg Hermitage and shows different pieces of their collection. The building in Amsterdam is also really nice, it used to be a ‘old folks home’ only for women, later also for men.

            And thanks to Cornelia I will have lots of things to smell when we visit in November, I have to think of a trick though to convince my husband to visit more than one museum…the ancient perfumes in the Bible museum will be so interesting I think! October 20, 2014 at 1:27pm Reply

            • Victoria: Is there way to intersperse museums with activities he likes? 🙂 October 20, 2014 at 2:36pm Reply

              • Hamamelis: Hopefully! He loves a good spa treatment and swimming pool (unlike me. ..) and the hotel we choose has a good one reportedly. So bubbles interspersed with biblical perfumes it may well be. October 20, 2014 at 2:46pm Reply

                • Victoria: A great trip in the making, I think. 🙂 October 20, 2014 at 4:04pm Reply

  • Ruth: Art museums in houses (and house museums) are my absolute favorites, and the Frick is a the top of my list as is as the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum in Boston. Someday I will get back to London and see this one. Thank you for this! October 17, 2014 at 10:39am Reply

    • Victoria: Mine too! There is something so intimate and fascinating about them.

      That museum is one more reason to visit Boston for me! October 17, 2014 at 11:06am Reply

  • rickyrebarco: I love the Wallace Collection. I spent many hours there a while back when I visited London. It’s the best smaller museum I’ve ever visited in except maybe for the Borghese museum in Rome with all its fabulous Berninis and Caravaggios. October 17, 2014 at 12:03pm Reply

    • Victoria: I’d love to see how they’ve changed the layout after the renovation, but I remember the museum having a very cozy feel. October 20, 2014 at 9:34am Reply

  • Annette Reynolds: Thanks for this edifying and inspiring post, Victoria. I’ve only been to London once (1971!) and love just about all things English so have craved going back ever since. I keep dreaming it will happen again someday.
    If it does, I will want to see this collection and hit every little perfume shop there is.

    To be honest, I know I went into Selfridges (I still have the little bag that came with my purchase) but I don’t remember anything about it. I was a starry-eyed Beatle fan and the main reason I was there was to try to catch a glimpse of Paul McCartney, so most of my days were spent going from Apple Records on Savile Row to EMI to Paul’s London house and back again… 🙂

    Next time I go I think the whole London experience will be vastly different! October 17, 2014 at 12:45pm Reply

    • angeldiva: HOW FABULOUS!!! October 17, 2014 at 3:25pm Reply

    • Victoria: I just love this story, Annette. Now, the question is–have you spotted Paul McCartney? 🙂 October 20, 2014 at 9:34am Reply

      • Annette Reynolds: No, but I saw his cleaning lady! 😉

        I did get to say “hi” to Ringo the LAST DAY I was in London. My friend and I were sitting on the steps of Apple Records, he drove up in a mini-cooper, parked, got out, and hopped up the steps while my friend and I sat there in open-mouthed awe. We both managed to say hello, and he brightly said the same, and then he went inside and we didn’t see him again.

        Oh, to be 17 again… October 20, 2014 at 12:42pm Reply

        • Victoria: Wow! That’s still impressive. 🙂 October 20, 2014 at 2:31pm Reply

  • MaureenC: There is also a great tea room! October 17, 2014 at 6:07pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you for mentioning it. I just found out that I will have to go to London for work in a month or so, and I will definitely have to visit both the Museum and the tea room. October 20, 2014 at 9:40am Reply

  • Solanace: Love this tip, a huge thank you, Victoria! October 18, 2014 at 4:58am Reply

    • Victoria: My pleasure! The collection is great, and the story around it is fascinating. October 20, 2014 at 9:41am Reply

  • Tara: A few years during a trip to London my husband and I struck up a conversation with a cool interesting young girl at the Illamasqua counter at Selfridges. We asked about interesting places in London that weren’t typical tourist spots and she suggested the Wallace Collection. It was worth the walk. The entire experience was very enjoyable. October 18, 2014 at 10:56am Reply

    • Victoria: I agree, it’s definitely a hidden gem. It took me a long time to discover, and I lived in London at one point! October 20, 2014 at 9:45am Reply

  • Nora Szekely: London is One of my favourite Cities in the World. So eclectic, full of culture, fun, exciting people. I Will definitely visit this House When I go there Next time. However Come to Think of it, I need some advice on which shop to visit in Brussels? I go there in 2 weeks and would like to know if there are any Hidden Little treasure shops or which malls are to go where a perfumista’s Heart starts to beat faster? Thank you in advance for your help. October 18, 2014 at 12:06pm Reply

    • Victoria: In Brussels, you have an excellent perfume shop called Senteurs d’ailleurs at Place Stéphanie 1A. They have many different brands, including Diptyque, Frederic Malle, L’Artisan, Robert Piguet, Ormonde Jayne and many more. Next door is a separate store selling high-end makeup and skincare. Across the street there is an Annick Goutal boutique. There are a few other perfume stores, but this place is excellent. And when you get tired of smelling, just walk up the street, and you will several tea and coffee shops. It’s a nice area. October 20, 2014 at 9:48am Reply

      • Nora Szekely: Thank you, Victoria for the great Ideas. October 20, 2014 at 5:37pm Reply

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