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An hour to spare after John Lewis or M&S?
Wallace Collection (London)
Member Name: tomc
Wallace Collection (London)
Date: 05/06/01, updated on 05/06/01 (77 review reads)
Advantages: Free admission, Great cafe and other facilities
Disadvantages: Collection stops at 1900
It was a hot June day, the sun shining down on Oxford Street crowds, and it seemed such a waste to be stuck shopping on a day like this. I’d read that the Wallace Collection had been re-opened after extensive modernisation and I knew it was somewhere behind John Lewis, in Manchester Square, so off I went. The Square looked cool and shady in the sun and office workers and local builders were relaxing on the grass. Across the Square the pillars of Hertford House offered respite from the sun and a promise of an hour spent wandering around an interesting exhibition so in I went.
I went up to the desk in the entrance and the first surprise was that there was no charge for admission. I bought a catalogue instead, and began my tour. About half way round I latched on to a guided tour and this helped me understand much more about the collection.
Let me say a word or two about the catalogue. I’m currently going round all the major art galleries of Europe – sounds like fun, but its only one capital city a year at the moment. Wherever I go I buy the illustrated catalogue, and I have to say, the Wallace Collection catalogue is well worth the £6.95 and compares very well with others I’ve bought.
The Wallace Collection was bequeathed to the country in 1897 by Lady Wallace, a French-woman, wife of the late Lord Wallace. The collection she left was staggering in its scale, of incalculable value and it opened to the public in 1900. A notice in the foyer says that it is now funded by the Department of Culture Media and Sport and by donations from the public. In one sense though, it is a static collection and feels more like a museum than a conventional gallery because there have been no acquisitions for over a hundred years and the collection itself feels slightly stagnant (is that the word? Probably not, but it doesn’t seem quite like a living collection which grows and evolves).
However, even if th
e collection is a little bit static, the building certainly is not. It has recently been through considerable re-furbishment and one of the courtyards has been given a glass roof and now houses the extremely high quality (and not too expensive) Café Bagatelle.
The collection is vast, and consists of a large amount of art work and countless items of sculpture, pottery, jewellery, furniture and silver and gold items. There is also a very large amount of armour, sword and cross-bows (not an interesting subject to me, but no doubt it has its fans). There is even a box of armour you can try on, but I can’t say this appealed to me.
There is a very large collection of Cannalettos and a wide range of 18th and 19th century art. For someone like myself who likes 20th century art I found the art work collection lacking in more modern works but there is no doubt that the collection is very fine. I’ll just mention two or three items which are particularly note-worthy.
Firstly, “The Swing” by Fragonnard. This world-famous work shows a young woman on a swing, being pushed by an older man (her father? her husband?) while a younger man sits beneath her looking up her skirt (which she carefully reveals by throwing of one of her shoes with an exuberant kick). Its well worth seeing this picture as it is re-produced in many books of art collections and for me it’s the high-point of the collection.
Secondly, “The Laughing Cavalier” by Franz Hals. Everyone knows this picture. Its difficult for me remember where exactly I’ve seen it (Chocolate boxes? Calendars? Jigsaw puzzles?) but it’s a very striking picture when you see it for real.
Thirdly, “Titus” by Rembrandt. This is one of those dark, deeply meaningful portraits so typical of Rembrandt. Titus was his son and he painted it at a time of great personal problems, as is shown in the haunted look on the subjec
I spent an hour in the Wallace Collection and was glad I went. I wouldn’t say it compares with the great London galleries (National, Tate) but its worth a visit if you’ve got an hour or so to spare, and if you’re interested in particular items held by the collection you could happily spend a day there. If you want to get a flavour of the collection before you go, the website is very good and contains illustrations of much of the collection. It can be found at http://www.the-wallace-collection.org.uk/ . This also contains information about the special facilities for schools with many activities linked to the National Curriculum.
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