For the love of Gold: The Wallace Collection


Gold in various guises is the common denominator in the Wallace Collection. Gilt frames, Ormolu mounts, gilding on the fine frech furniture, Boulle work, clocks, sculptures, jewellery, snuff boxes, Sevres porcelain, sconces, mirrors, and not to forget the details on the carved panelling of the rooms themselves, there is gold everywhere you turn. The Wallace doesn’t do minimalism, and we should be glad they don’t. This is the place to come and immerse yourself in a feeling of sheer opulence and quality, without feeling overwhelmed by the size of the museum.

Hertford House is one of the remaining grand London residences of the aristocratic tradition of keeping such places, but even though it’s a grand building the exterior doesn’t hint at what will be revealed within. Although there is a connection between the house and the collection, its spiritual home lies in France not England. The collection is the result of three generations of collecting starting with the 3rd Marquess of Hertford (1777 – 1842). His son Richard Seymour – Conwey, the 4th Marquess lived most of his live in France and spent vast sums enlarging the collection. He acquired the remarkable little Château de Bagatelle in the Bois de Boulogne which was built for the Comte d’Artois in 1777, and this together with their apartments in Paris was were the collection was formed. The 4th Marquess left no legitimate heirs but he had a natural son who had been living with him as secretary, Sir Richard Wallace. The distant relatives who inherited the title and entailed estates were surprised to find that everything else, including the by now famous collection, was passed to this illegitimate son. Sir Richard remained in Paris and added to the collection until the Paris commune of 1871 when he decided to seek a safer haven for the collection in London. His widow Lady Wallace gifted the collection to the nation with the stipulation that it would remain on permanent view to the public and nothing would be sold or loaned. This simple stipulation ensured that no future fashions in museological approaches were used to re-display the collection or add layers of educational interpretation.

There are few places where one could see so many excellent examples of french furniture together with artworks of the highest degree, Waddesdon Manor and the Buccleuch Collections are perhaps the only ones that can compete. In fact it shares a lot of similarities with the Rothschild trends for collecting, interestingly the Paris appartment of the Marquess of Hertford was located only a few doors down from Salomon de Rothschild house on Rue Lafitte. A big difference with Waddesdon however is that its exuberant Loire Chateau style exterior already creates an expectation of something special, the facade of Hertford House guards the sumptuousness of what is to come as a surprise.

Being able to see such an outstanding collection within a context of a series of rooms hung with brightly coloured silk damasks is a delight. I try to go here when I can, and as it’s free for all to enter its a great place to return to and simply explore a room or an object at a time.


The Front State Room, this is where visitors to Hertford House were received by the Wallaces and would have gotten their first glimpses of the collection.


The Large Drawing Room


The East Drawing Room has a good collection of Flemish and Dutch paintings including several small preparatory works by Rubens as well as an impressive  Jacob Jordaens over the mantelpiece.


A detail of the Laughing Cavalier by Frans Hals, undoubtedly the most famous work in the collection. The vigorous fluidity of the brush strokes is a joy to see, and it’s clear why the Impressionists were so taken with the work of Hals.


The Great Gallery is the setting where some of the most iconic pieces of the collection can be seen such as Titians Perseus and Andromeda, Rubens’ Rainbow Landscape,  paintings by Canaletto, Murillo, Van Dyck, Rembrandt all vie for attention. The detail above is of a particularly opulent painting by Jan Weenix, this kind of work exudes a type of luxury that matches the sheer decadence of its surroundings.


Detail of a Contre-partie veneered wardrobe of 1715 by  André-Charles Boulle in the  Billiard  Room. 



One of the many wonderful pieces of armour in the collection

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