Bequeathed to the nation in 1897, the Wallace Collection displays outstanding works collected by the Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The Wallace Collection is a family collection in origin – but no ordinary family. The 4th Marquess, an almost obsessive collector of art, left it all to his illegitimate son and fellow enthusiast, Richard Wallace. Wallace's widow, in turn, left the entire extraordinary collection to the nation – one of the greatest ever bequests of art to the public.
What’s it like?
One of the most charming and approachable ways to enjoy an internationally renowned collection.
Shortly after Wallace brought his inheritance to London from Paris, he loaned every last piece to Bethnal Green Museum to make it available to the public – the sense that these exquisite works of art belong to us all is never lost in the sumptuous, aristocratic surroundings.
What should I see?
Nobody knows who he is, but everybody loves The Laughing Cavalier (1624) by Frans Hals. The flamboyant figure is neither laughing nor a cavalier (the title was invented in the late 19th century), but the twinkle in his eye and excellent moustache are almost guaranteed to put you in a good mood.
Don’t skip the astonishing collections of arms and armour, including the extremely rare and well-preserved equestrian armour from around 1480. An example of the German ‘Gothic’ style, the near-complete assembly evokes the elegance and power of the medieval knight.
Famous views of Venice by the 18th-century master Canaletto capture the colour and splendour of the city and were keenly sought after by British tourists on the Grand Tour. The 1st Marquess acquired two of the artist's finest paintings – different views of Venice’s inner harbour – probably as a souvenir from his own travels in Italy.
For something completely different, discover the compelling and at times terrifying history of dentistry at the BDA Dental Museum, just over five minutes walk away.
As The Wallace Collection is located right in the middle of London, a short ride on public transport will bring you to dozens more of the capital’s fantastic museums and galleries.
Tell me something I don’t know
The house itself was built by the Duke of Manchester in the 1700s because there was good duck shooting nearby. It was acquired in 1797 by the 2nd Marquess of Hertford, who was more interested in hosting amazing parties – including the Allied Sovereigns’ Ball after the defeat of Napoleon in 1814. The house has also been home to the French and Spanish embassies.