The Wallace Collection is one of the most prestigious art collections in the country. Centrally located and easy to reach for many properties in the Shaftesbury Hotel Group, it’s not only a prominent collection of international works but a unique insight into the history of the English aristocracy. Whether you’re visiting to gain insight into the historic owners of the 16th century Hertford House, or simply to see the wondrous 18th and 19th-century paintings and decorative arts displayed there, the Wallace Collection is one of the must-visit icons of the London tourist landscape.
From unique art to centuries worth of royal history, we thought we’d give you the low down on the Wallace Collection so that you visit well informed and knowing exactly what you’re looking for. Below are some of the interesting facts about the Wallace Collection and why it should be top of your London sightseeing list.
What is the Wallace Collection?
The Wallace Collection is a free to visit art collection based in Hertford House in Manchester Square. Situated very close to Oxford Street, Manchester Square is easy to reach from hotels like the Park Grand London Lancaster Gate in Central London. The Wallace Collection is not just a beautiful house however, it is a long-accumulated collection of artworks that span the Old Masters to French portraiture from the 18th and 19th century, whilst also presenting beautiful decorative arts in the form of sculptures, jewellery and beautiful interiors.
History of Hertford House
The name Hertford House dates back to the 16th century when a Cannon Row Townhouse was built by Edward Seymour the 1st Earl of Hertford. After his death, a later branch of the family, namely Richard and Lady Wallace built the house on Manchester Square in the 18th century. This house was ever-evolving and before being bought by the Seymour family, had housed the French and Spanish Embassy.
As notable redevelopment occurred in the year 2000 when the inner courtyard was given a glass roof and a cafe opened inside. This is now named Cafe Bagatelle, named after Francis Seymour Conway’s 19th-century French chateau.
Who made the Wallace Collection?
The Wallace Collection has accumulated over five generations from the same aristocratic Seymour family one of the originals of which was Jane Seymour, the third and quite possibly favourite of Henry VIII’s sixth wives on account of her giving him a male heir.
Due to Jane’s legacy, the Seymour family became, during the 19th century, one of the richest in Europe and had properties across Great Britain and increased their value through marriages and dowries, thus giving them the time and the cash to indulge their love of art. Eventually, the collection amassed a total of 5500 artworks, the culmination of four different Marquesses of Hertford and the illegitimate Sir Richard Wallace. The latter bequeathed the artworks to the general public upon his death and his wife Lady Wallace gave it to the country in 1897. After this, the government decided to buy the house itself as an art gallery, and the Wallace Collection was opened in 1900.
Wallace Collection Layout
Hertford House spans 2 floors but the collection is mainly found on the ground floor. Rooms include the dining hall, a front and back stateroom, 3 separate European armouries, an oriental armoury, a 16th-century painting gallery and a smoking room. On top of this, the lower ground floor plays host to the Porphyry Court, which was transformed into the elegant glass-roofed cafe at the turn of the 21st century.
Wallace Collection Treasure Hunt
With so much history of wealth and royalty behind it, the Wallace Collection has quickly become one of the most treasured collections in London. Whether you’re visiting the collection as a first-time special offer London hotel guest (check out our deals here!) or it’s your hundredth visit to the Collection, we thought we’d compile a list of some of the weird and wonderful artefacts in the museum.
Musical Clock by Jean Claud Chambellan Duplessis
Made by famous French designer Jean Claud Chambellan Duplessis, this Musical Clock is vivid, striking and beautifully rich in its embellishments. With bronze and rose pink silk, the clock blooms with gold painted flowers, spaniels and pheasants, making it a unique blend of indulgent grandeur and exquisitely crafted artworks. Can you spot this beautiful clock in the Back State Room?
The Mysterious Jewelled Dagger
Located in the Oriental Armoury, the jewelled dagger represents a tradition of the 17th century Mughal Court in North India. These daggers were reserved for the emperors family. This one was bequeathed to Emperor Jahangir’s son, Prince, and then Shah Khurram after his war in the Deccan in 1617.
Armour for Man and Horse
Take a step back into the 15th century with this striking example of a medieval knight and horse’s armour. Located in the second European Armoury, this armour dates back to the late 15th century and was probably made for German use. This horses armour is one of only three left of its kind in the world, making it a rare glimpse into the past of chivalric warfare.
Rembrandt’s Titus the Artist’s Son
One of the most famous of the Dutch Masters works, Rembrandt’s portrait of his son Titus is a loving look at his only surviving child and probably dates back to the 1650s’. Based in the first of the East Galleries, this is a perfect example of the vivid European paintings that embellish the walls of the Wallace Collection.
The Horn of St Hubert
Although its creator is unknown, this horn was believed to have been made in memory of St Hubert, the patron saint of hunting. The horn was originally owned by Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy but was sold to the Wallace Family in 1879, leaving it to stand in the 16th-century gallery. The horn is engraved with patterns and was believed to have been used by Saint Hubert himself when he saw a vision of a crucifix whilst hunting a stag in the 7th century.
Trophy Head from Ghana
Built-in the 18th century, this striking gold head is believed to be one of the largest historic objects from Africa outside of Egypt and was made in the old kingdom of Asante, now known as present-day Ghana.