With more than 6,000 works of fine and decorative art, furniture, and armoury, the Wallace Collection could seem like any other London museum, but there is so much more to it. The walls at historic Hertford House might not be able to speak; however, every single vase, desk, and portrait here has a story to tell. Learn their secrets by taking one of the guided tours on offer. Round up your wide-eyed friends on a rainy afternoon, and let one of the knowledgeable curators lift the curtain on the lives of kings and artists through the countless objets d’art.
The portraits and busts of the Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Wallace greet you at the very start of your tour. The five men who accumulated this treasure trove had very different characters and lifestyles, yet all were passionate art connoisseurs and admirers of French art. You soon feel tempted to touch the lavish rococo furnishings, gilded jewellery boxes, and grandfather clocks that once adorned the chambers of Versailles. The Marquesses also managed to gather one of the richest collections of delicate Sèvres porcelain. The exuberant blues, greens, and pinks of these painstakingly decorated pieces soon have you wishing for a new tea set.
The Wallace Collection transports you to a more refined world as the guide tells you and your friends the stories behind some of the fascinating objects. On walking past a gilded commode, you are astonished to hear Louis XV claimed to see the flames of hell as he lay dying next to the ornamented piece. You pass through the boudoir in which the 2nd Marchioness of Hertford had tea with her lover, the Prince of Wales, and then look through the window from which she waved adieu to the Prince. You admire a portrait of Queen Victoria only to learn that the artist’s daughter also posed with the crown jewellery, so the young monarch would not feel fatigued. “The only American to wear the Regalia,” the guide jokes.
As you wander through the collection, your friend spots an evocative Delacroix. Among the many works by lesser known old masters, the walls of Hertford House also display masterpieces by Canaletto, Velàzquez, Rubens and Titian. Naturally, the question arises what’s next: the armoury collection or the pictures in the Great Gallery? More curious tales of intrigue at the French court await you, but the afternoon calls for refreshments. Take a table at the brasserie in the courtyard and savour cream tea in the daylight flooding through the glass rooftop as you reflect on your journey through time.