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Bequeathed to the nation in 1897, the Wallace Collection displays works collected by the Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace (son of the 4th Marquess) in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The house – situated just off Oxford Street – was originally built in the late 1700s for the 4th Duke of Manchester, who chose the location because there was good duck shooting nearby. After a period being used as the Spanish Embassy, the lease was acquired by the 2nd Marquess of Hertford in 1797 who used the house as his principal London residence. He held many amazing parties in the property – including the Allied Sovereigns’ Ball after the defeat of Napoleon in 1814.
From 1836-51 the house was let as the French Embassy, while the 4th Marquess was living in Paris. It was only with the Paris Commune of 1871 that Richard Wallace – the 4th Marquess’ illegitimate son – decided to move back to London, bringing a substantial amount of his art collection with him. Wallace redeveloped the house, creating a range of galleries on the first floor. The crowning glory of which was the Great Gallery – home to an outstanding collection of Old Master paintings and later described by art historian and critic, Kenneth Clark, as 'the greatest picture gallery in Europe'. After Wallace's death the house was converted into a museum which first welcomed the public in June 1900. Apart from breaks during the two world wars it has been open ever since.
In 2014, the Great Gallery reopened after a two-year refurbishment. Key to the project was a rehang of the paintings which are now ordered by nationality, and a reconfigured gallery ceiling, allowing the space to be flooded with natural day light. This returns the ceiling to how it was originally designed by Wallace in the 1870s.
The Wallace Collection is a family collection in origin. Its works of art were collected between about 1760 and 1880 by the first four Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace.
Highlights include paintings by Titian, Rembrandt, Hals and Velazquez; a wealth of 18th-century French fine art; mediaeval and Renaissance objects; and European and Oriental arms and armour.