If you think that you’ve “done it all” in central London, then you’re about to be surprised.
Ever since I read a travel blog post by Love Travelling, about The Wallace Collection, housed in Hertford House, I was desperate to visit. It’s crazy how I’ve been going to London my whole life, but had no idea that this place even existed. It’s smaller than most galleries, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in the statue of its pieces, and the relative quiet with regards to visitor numbers, not that I myself am anything but just another tourist in London!
Hertford House is the ancestral home of the Seymour family, the Marquesses of Hertford. In 1900 the 4th Marquess of Hertford bequeathed his family’s collection to the nation, on the condition that no item in Hertford House can ever be loaned or taken elsewhere, away from the collection. If you’re thinking that the paintings of the Dutch Masters (Rembrandt) and Canaletto (Venetian canal scenes, painted in a distinct style by Giovanni Antonio Canal) aren’t really your thing, then you can also see the portrait The Laughing Cavalier (1624), which has inspired several memes. Personally, I prefer watercolours.
However the highlight of the house really has to be its French artefacts, mostly Ancien Regime in style with several pieces actually from Versailles and Fontaine Bleu, some are even survivors from the court of Louis XIV, The Sun King himself. The quality of these objects is beyond comparison, and genuinely invokes the splendour of the pre-Revolution French monarchy. From gilded everything, to Chinese lacquer, these clocks and ornaments are so enchanting they might well be the inspiration for Disney’s recent Beauty and the Beast live-action remake.
Something I liked about the museum was that whilst I was there I saw a small group of school children being taken on a tour, and then practicing acting out scenes from a Greek myth in one of the galleries. They were obviously preparing to showcase a play for a school assembly or something, and I just really liked the fact that they were being directed by the teacher, but they weren’t being loud, and the gallery staff didn’t interfere. It was like, they were being shown all of this art and pottery and turning it into something that was entertaining for other children, and gave meaning to some of the objects they’d been shown. There’s nothing worse than a lifeless museum, full of people who aren’t actually engaging with anything on display, and feeling as though none of this history has “anything to do with me”.
Another good thing about this collection is that it’s small enough not to be overwhelming. You don’t really need to “plan” your visit, you can see everything on display in around two hours, which is long enough. You can’t really get lost in the building itself, and the only really division is between the furnishings and paintings of the ground and first floor, and then the subterranean basement chambers of armour, weapons and medieval religious relics.
This collection is so spectacular that its admirers go far beyond the usual historians and art enthusiasts, and it seems that the Wallace Collection has actually made its mark on the world of high fashion. The renowned fashion designer, Vivienne Westwood, has actually used some of the pieces as inspiration for some of her own designs! Watch her talk about the Collection here.
Planning a visit;
- Admission is free – though it’s suggested that you leave a donation to help keep the Collection up and running.
- The Collection is open daily from 10am – 5pm.
- Address; Hertford House, Manchester Square, Marylebone, London W1U 3BN (just a few minutes away from the bustle and chaos of Oxford Street!)
- There’s a cloakroom for large bags, and a stylish but expensive cafe for refreshments.
- More information on their website.