Private Collection Gone Public
Originally the not-so-humble abode of the Hertford family, The Wallace Collection still feels like a private home. Overlooking Manchester Square in central London, it’s set back behind iron railings, perched on a small green surrounded by shrubbery and reached through a porticoed entrance.
The palatial townhouse pays homage to this well-to-do family and their world-class art. Its 25 galleries show an impressive range of art and artefacts, from French 18th-century paintings to Oriental arms and armour.
With a wall covering of crimson silk, the naturally lit Great Gallery is the star of the show – and as grand as its name suggests. Hung alongside some of the most famous paintings in the UK, no wonder Frans Hals’ “Laughing Cavalier” has a self-satisfied look on his face. And don’t miss the titillating caricatures of the married Lady Hertford and the wayward Prince Regent (later George IV). Beneath the veneer of this venerable institution is a somewhat scandalous history.
The Wallace Collection is free to all and open every day of the week. My favourite time to visit? During my lunch break: while others flock to the delightful brasserie in the central courtyard, I have the galleries to myself.
The Wallace Collection, Hertford House, Manchester Square, London, W1U 3BN.
Photo: Chloë Ashby.