I have a list of places that I want to visit and this spring I crossed another off the list – The Wallace Collection. The only problem was that I enjoyed the visit so much that I’ll have to go again! In case you haven’t been, the Wallace Collection is probably the finest art collection assembled by one family (over five generations). A condition of the bequest was that no object should ever leave the collection, even for loan exhibitions and it is now a national museum containing over 5,000 objects.
There are decorative arts from the 15th to 19th centuries arranged into 25 galleries. They contain an amazing collection of 18th century French paintings, beautiful Sèvres porcelain, furniture which had belonged to Marie Antoinette and a collection of arms and armour which would have kept my husband happy for a couple of hours.
Helen and I meticulously covered each room but couldn’t help being drawn to the things we love most – the incredibly beautiful Sèvres and the glittering collection of snuff boxes. The colours and detail of the handpainted floral sections on the porcelain were exquisite and there were further examples on inlaid panels on side tables and cabinets. The small room holding the collection of snuff boxes was like a sweet shop for us. Some were enamelled with miniature reproductions of famous paintings, others were inlaid with mother of pearl, diamonds and lapis. The workmanship of the 18th century Parisian goldsmiths was awesome.
Fortified by a cup of good coffee in the covered courtyard restaurant we moved through the rooms choosing our favourite pieces. It was lovely to see the Strawberry Girl by Joshua Reynolds, this was regarded by Reynolds as one of his best works but I have always known her as my mother bought a print in the sixties. We were fascinated by the perpetual almanac dating back to 1741 and made for Louis XV by the enameler Martinère. I also loved Guardi’s views of Venice. Less analytical than Canaletto and very atmospheric they must have been a wonderful reminder of the Marquess’ trip to Italy.
Other highlights were the Italian 16th century maiolica, the Minton Turkish style tiles of the original smoking room (not a patch on Frederick Leighton’s but still beautiful) and the staircase balustrade. This architectural feature was original designed for the Royal Bank in Paris in 1719 but due to a financial crash the building became the King’s library. My overall choice though was the mid 16th century Italian rock crystal tazza. Google it, it’s so beautiful but let’s face it, it would be such a worry to have it on the shelf at home!!
The 4th Marquess said ” My collection is the result of my life” and that’s how we should view our homes, beautiful pieces are worth collecting if every time you look at them they give you pleasure. The antique and vintage treasures that Helen and I buy for the shop may not be worthy of the Wallace Collection but they are still demonstrating the incredible artistic crafts of the 19th and early 20th centuries.
The museum is free which is wonderful but they do have a collecting box at the door and I promise you’ll want to donate in recognition of this fabulous collection.