On Sunday 22nd May 2011, a group of 9 Alexandra WI ladies visited the Wallace Collection at Hertford House in Manchester Square. Tucked behind Oxford street like a highly-prized jewel, it is protected from the usual hustle and bustle of the busy West End of London.
Thanks to the WI Committee we were fortunate enough to have a high quality guided tour arranged solely for our group.
We learned that the Wallace Collection is a national museum in a historic London town house.
In 25 galleries there were displays of French 18th Century furniture and porcelain with superb Old Master paintings, miniatures and an armoury. These were all collected in the 18th and 19th centuries by the 1st Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace (son of the 4th Marquess).
It was bequethed to the British Nation by Sir Richard’s widow, Lady Wallace, in 1897. Her bequest stated that it would be a closed collection, where nothing was to be added or taken out. One could quite easily spend an hour or more in the Main Gallery itself, where we were introduced to the ‘Laughing Cavalier’ by Hal, as well as works by Ruben, Rembrandt and Titian.
The collection also housed paintings by Canalletto, Velasquez and the cheecky Boucher, who used the the subject of ancient myth and legend as an excuse for frequent nudity! Some of us particularly liked the blue-papered round room which displayed a portrait of Madame De Pompadour.
In other rooms we also admired the wardrobes with turtle-shell inlay, created to impress. The story behind several exceptional pieces of furniture was explained to us. Through protective glass cabinets we inspected the exquisite snuff boxes and beautiful pottery.
We learned about Marie Antoinette and the Sun King. And that also, after the French Revolution, many of their belongings were sold off by the the revolutionaries. Some of which have found their way into this collection, with their docket number still on the back!
The entire group enjoyed a pleasant lunch in the Courtyard Cafe, which was a lovely light and airy space. Definitely one to visit again!