By Michele Leight
LONDON, Sept. 1, 2000 - In 1870, the reclusive
4th Marquess of Hertford left all his real and personal estate
to his illegitimate son, Richard Wallace, upon his death, taking
everyone by surprise. He had never publicly recognized Wallace
as his son but by way of explanation wrote "…for all
the care and attention to my Dear Mother and likewise for his
devotedness to me during a long and painful illness…"
he willed to him the art collections in London and Paris, Bagatelle,
(his chateau outside Paris where the will had been found in the
drawer of a writing-table), the Rue Lafitte apartment in Paris,
105 Piccadilly in London and a large estate in Ireland. Not bad,
all things considered.
On February 16th, 1897, Amelie-Julie-Charlotte,
the French widow of Sir Richard Wallace, died in Hertford House
in London, leaving to Britain its largest private bequest –
of all time. She had spent the last seven years of her life after
her husband's death in the solitary company of her aging dog and
her late husband's French-speaking secretary – and the long
black cheroots she kept well-stocked and close at hand.
By any standards, the Wallace Collection is
legitimately staggering. It is one of the great secrets of London,
often overlooked by tourists, and one of the worlds finest private
collections ever assembled by a single family. Following in their
tradition, exciting new additions and exhibitions have been planned
for the Wallace Collection Centenary Project – June 22nd,
2000 celebrated to the day its 100th anniversary as a national
Construction is almost complete on a 10.6 million
pound project. Despite major construction activity, the museum
has remained open throughout construction. Architect Rick Mather,
together with Ove Arup & Partners and Quantity Surveyors Gardiner
& Theobald were selected in 1995 from 3 invited teams. As
shown below in the drawing by Andrew Birds, (Copyright the Wallace
Collection) the proposed glass roof will transform the courtyard
into an all-weather Sculpture Garden. The visual appearance of
a late-Victorian courtyard, and the re-instatement of a bronze
fountain originally brought by Sir Richard Wallace from his chateau
de Bagatelle in Paris will be highlighted by a novel "water
feature," given a contemporary twist with additional glass-covered
rills allowing a cascade of water to flow from the base of the
fountain and down the outline of the stone steps leading to the
new basement. A restaurant will be situated in the Sculpture Garden
– for day and late-night opening enjoyment. O, to be a Londoner!
As if all this was not enough, four new galleries
– the Reserve Collection, Watercolor Gallery, Exhibition
Gallery and Conservation Gallery – together with a new Study
Center (comprising a 150-seat lecture theater), a Seminar Room,
an Education Room and a drop-in Library complete the Wallace Collection
Centennial Project. From June 22, 2000 – January 7, 2001,
the Centenary Exhibition, "Celebrating Five Generations of
Collectors," gives fascinating insight into the founders
of the collection – the first four Marquesses and Sir Richard
Wallace. Letters, caricatures, portraits and documents are featured,
including some on loan from The British Museum and the Victoria
& Albert Museum. (See The City Review
article on "London -–The Millenium Projects," for
more information on these great institutions.)
Forthcoming treats include the first international
loan exhibition, "Queen Victoria and Thomas Sully: An American
Painter at Buckingham Palace," January 22, 2001 (the Centenary
of Queen Victoria's death) till 29th April 2001, after showing
at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (September 19 -
December 31, 2000). A charming current exhibition of 25 watercolors
by Richard Parkes Bonnington (1802-28): Into The Light,"
complement the ten oils permanently on display in the Housekeepers
Room. The watercolors are shown only rarely for conservation reasons,
and the Wallace Collection represent the finest group of the artists
work in the world
Lady Wallace had never really felt at home
in England, where she had lived from the age of 52. The family
into which she had married was not short on scandal and she had
ridden a roller-coaster from the moment she met Sir Richard Wallace,
the illegitimate son of Mrs. Agnes Jackson and Lord Beauchamp
(later the 4th Marquess of Hertford). At the age of six, he was
carted off to Paris by his mother to find his father. The 4th
Marquess took him in, asking his grandmother, the 3rd Marchioness,
to take care of him. If the reader is having difficulty keeping
track of all this aristocratic libido and country-hopping, it
was accepted behavior back then, as long as the unmentionable
– divorce – was kept out of the picture. Illegitimate
children could not contest a will or claim a revered title –
those bloodlines had to be maintained at all costs.
Sir Richard met and began an affair with Amelie-Charlotte
when he was 20; she was working in a local perfume shop in Paris.
History repeated itself and Amelie-Charlotte gave birth to their
illegitimate son, Edmond Richard, in 1840. Unable to bear the
name Hertford, Sir Richard baptized himself Richard Wallace two
years later – choosing his mother's maiden name.
The 4th Marquess of Hertford clearly did not
approve of their union, and it was not until he died, thirty years
after they met, that Wallace married Amelie-Julie. His cousin
became the 5th Marquess (no illegitimate son could inherit the
title) and Sir Richard bought Hertford House from him in 1870.
It is no surprise that Lady Wallace was resigned to a sequestered
life and some peace and quiet in London after all the years of
excitement and turmoil.
The 4th Marquess, who acquired the bulk of
the Wallace Collection, bought Bagatelle, a small 18th Century
chateau in the Bois de Boulogne in Paris in 1835; Sir Richard
had lived in Paris from the age of 6, leaving him more French
than English. When the Prussians seized Paris in 1871, Sir Richard
moved back to London with his French wife. They moved into the
present building in Manchester Square in 1875, after three years
of extensive renovations on the house. Ironically, Wallace spent
the last three years of his life at Bagatelle, leaving his wife
alone at Hertford House. He died in 1890 in the same room and
in the same bed at Bagatelle as his father, the 4th Marquess,
leaving everything to his French wife residing in England!
The ambiance of this elegant museum is predominantly
French, with extraordinary world-class Flemish, Italian and English
paintings thrown in for good measure - Frans Hals, Rembrandt,
Titian, Rubens, Reynolds and Gainsborough to name only a few of
the artists represented.
Its French paintings are awesome. Indeed, its
"Swing," painted effervescently in 1787 by Jean-Honoré
Fragonard is quintessentially French – exuberant, frilly,
gorgeous and mischievous. Which other nation would matter-of-factly
accept a husband and a lover and the object of their "amour"
in the same painting – back in 1767? The beautiful painting
also presents something of a jolt as its subject is represented
in the great Fragonard room at The Frick Collection in New York,
a smaller but also extraordinarily impressive private collection
The Wallace's Fragonards are in the company
of the finest Bouchers, Nattiers and Watteaus outside France;
the Wallace's own catalog of French paintings circa 1900 (Catalogue
of Pictures III, "French before 1815") listed 26 Bouchers,
21 Greuzes, 14 Paters, 11 Lancrets, 9 Watteaus and 8 Fragonards,
of which the present catalog questions the attributions of twelve.
The National Gallery catalog listed one Boucher, four Greuzes
and four Lancrets, with no Fragonards, Watteaus or Paters. All
the French paintings (and the Dutch, Flemish, older French and
Italian paintings!) were acquired by the 4th Marquess of Hertford
; he also was responsible for the furniture and china, which were
"of his time," including pieces which are not only beautiful
but of great historical significance as well.
Its leafy location tucked behind the bustle
and merchandising of Oxford Street, was a refuge and a delight
on a recent warm August afternoon. The new addition of Café
Bagatelle in the quiet courtyard of the museum offers the visitor
snacks, lunches and the ‘de rigeur’ afternoon teas for
which the British are famous. As part of the Wallace's Millenium
Project, a glass roof will transform the café into a covered
plaza, allowing the space to be enjoyed in all kinds of weather.
The Wallace collection is rich
in many lovely paintings of interiors such as "A Lady Reading
a Letter," show above, by Gerard ter Borch (1617-1681), "The
Letter Writer Surprised," by Gabriel Metsu (1629-1667), and
"A Woman Peeling Apples," by Pieter de Hooch (1629-1684).
While the Wallace does not have a Vermeer, these are about as
close as you can come and are a superb representation of 17th
Century Dutch studies.
The Wallace Collection is also
very rich in the works of Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), one of
the great virtuosi of composition and color in Western European
painting history. Among the great Rubens in the collection at
"The Holy Family with Elizabeth and St. John the Baptist,"
"Christ's Charge to Peter," "The Rainbow Landscape,"
two versions of "The Adoration of the Magi" and the
very dynamic "Defeat and Death of Maxentius."
Other wonderful paintings include
"Angel with a Sword" by Hans Memling, "Saint Roch"
by Carlo Crivelli (1430/5-1495), and "A Dance to the Music
of Time" by Nicholas Poussin (1594-1665), a very fine and
This is a museum to savor, like good wine,
as rushing through it would only deprive you of its real treasures.
The collection of Sèvres china is full of charming surprises,
and the superb Armories would keep young boys quiet for a while
if you wish to take them along; this is the perfect museum to
introduce bored teens or disinterested sons to art and culture
– its smaller scale and lived-in atmosphere is less intimidating
to those approaching art for the first time, or for those who
think art is only for over-the-hill parents with no real excitement
going on in their lives. Even the most cynical teen would be charmed
by Café Bagatelle – equipped with a Walkman and earphones
this could be one of the moments they remember for the rest of
their lives. According to the museum's website, "The leading
French restaurant company Eliance showed faith in this vision
by investing in the restaurant and by their ingenious appointment
of Stephen Bull as Creative Director," adding that Eliance's
"portfolio already includes the Musée du Louvre and
the Michelin-starred Jules Verne Restaurant on the second floor
of the Eiffel Tower." Café Bagatelle is located in
Rick Mather's elegant Sculpture Garden in the heart of the building
and has a glass roof and the bronze fountain bought by Sir Richard
Wallace from his chateau de Bagatelle in Paris.
Pictorial and sculpted references to Sir Richard
and Lady Wallace and their forebears are to be found throughout
the collection. "The 3rd Marquess of Hertford," (Francis
Charles Seymour-Conway, 1777-1842), painted circa 1823 by Sir
Thomas Lawrence portrays the 21-year-old Lord Yarmouth (later
the 3rd Marquess), who married "Mie-Mie," the illegitimate
daughter of the 4th Duke of Queensbury and an Italian dancer.
George Selwyn also claimed to be Mie-Mie’s father (this was
before DNA testing), so the lucky girl inherited considerable
fortunes from both men. The Seymour-Conways traced their lineage
back to Edward Seymour, the Earl of Hartford, and brother of Jane
Seymour, Henry VIII's third wife. Edward VI, Jane Seymour's son,
would become king in the middle of the 16th Century. To complicate matters even further, "Mie-Mie"
gave birth to Lord Henry Seymour in Paris in 1805, who was believed
to be the son of Count Casimir de Montrond. The mind boggles at
the paternity suits that would be flying around in our day, given
the same circumstances! When war broke out between England and
France, Lord Yarmouth was interned in Verdun as an enemy alien,
returning to England to reside without his wife, a separation
that became permanent.
George Hoppner’s "George IV as Prince
of Wales," executed by the English portraitist in 1792, was
given to Lord Yarmouth by the Prince, known to his friends as
"prinny," in 1811. He was a legendary rake, yet managed
to show great favor to Lord Yarmouth. The 1st Marquess commissioned
Sir Joshua Reynolds, another great English portrait painter, to
paint his daughters, "Lady Elisabeth Seymour-Conway,"
(1784), and "Frances, Countess of Lincoln," (1784).
It was Elisabeth's fate never to marry, leaving her sister, Frances,
to continue the family line. She gave birth to Richard Seymour-Conway,
(1800-70), 4th Marquess of Hertford in 1842 – Sir Richard
An elegant marble bust of Sir Richard by Emmanuel
Hannaux (French, 1899) complements another of Lady Wallace by
Auguste Lebourg (French, 1872), and together they bring the family
closer to our own time; despite the obvious wealth and privilege
of their positions, a quiet benevolence and unpretentious gentility
permeate the smooth, expensive marble. When Sir Richard sold their
estate at Sudbourne in Suffolk, (the scene of many shooting parties
and elegant gatherings), the tenants on their land gave him a
very special send-off; they commissioned a local artist, William
Symonds, to paint a portrait of him – "Sir Richard Wallace,"
English, 1885, by William Robert Symonds. The artist noted that
Wallace did not actually "sit for the portrait, but preferred
to stand with a hand resting on the back of a chair – smoking
In a collection rife with royals from many
countries, there is a portrait of "Queen Victoria" by
Thomas Sully, American 1838. It shows a newly crowned, rosy-cheeked,
pretty young queen – young enough to pass for a girl –
with no hint of a reign which lasted till 1901, encompassing a
vast Empire under her rule. It is the antithesis of the "formidable
dowager" depictions of the same queen as the years and responsibilities
took their toll. Sully was commissioned to paint the Queen by
an anglophile society in Philadelphia.
In galleries bursting at the seams with history,
a painting in the Billiard Room claims attention, initially because
of the men with "big hair," or fashionable wigs, but
ultimately as a reminder of how fragile life was back then, even
for royals – "Madame de Ventadour with portraits of
Louis XIV and his heirs," French School, circa 1715-20. Madame
de Ventadour was governess to the Royal Children, a position she
inherited from her mother, and is credited with having saved the
life of the 2-year-old duc d’Anjou, heir to Louis XIV, who
is seated. During an epidemic of measles in 1712, she hid the
young boy from the royal doctors, thereby sparing him the fatal
disease and saving the Bourbon dynasty – the venerable doctors
failed to save Louis XV's parents and older brothers, who were
claimed by the disease.
Switching lanes for moment, it is hard to imagine
the Wallace Collection without its magnificent Armories, which
Sir Richard considered an integral part of his art collection
and displayed the contents accordingly. In the midst of all the
fine furniture, objets d’art and Sèvres dinner services,
the weapons and armor are an earthy reminder of the blood and
guts it took – and the bravery – to uphold or terminate
the monarchies and rarified worlds depicted in the paintings.
The decadence of pre-Revolutionary France and Russia are elegantly
portrayed on canvas; yet it would not be many years before France
became a Democracy, beheading their king and his family, for Russia
to oust the Romanoffs and overturn their monarchy and for Oliver
Cromwell's troops to defeat the Royalists in bloody battles, beheading
Charles I along the way.
Richard Wallace acquired the European Armory
in 1871 by buying the collections of the compte de Nieuwerke (Napoleon
III's Minister of Fine Arts and Director of the Louvre) and Sir
Rush Meyrick – the pioneer of the study of arms and armor
in England. Weapons used by European knights during the Crusades,
French swords which witnessed the Hundred Years War (circa 1460),
a Falcion made for Cosimo de Medici (Italian, 1546-9) and a close
tournament helmet, by Conrad Richter of Augsberg (circa 1555)
for Ferdinand I, (the future Holy Roman Emperor), conjure up images
of political intrigue, jousting tournaments and battle-worn warriors
returning to their beloveds after years spent in foreign countries.
Two real show-stoppers are the Tudor armor
of Lord Buckhurst, 1st Earl of Dorset (English, circa 1587), made
in the Royal Workshops in Greenwich established by Henry VIII
(begun 16th century) and a breath-taking rapier (Swept-Hilt rapier,
English, c.1605-15), which Napoleon Bonaparte carried with him
throughout his European campaigns as a "good-luck" mascot.
When the imagination ignites, the Armories become a magic-carpet
ride through some of the defining moments of history.
Worlds away from battlefields and broadswords
is François Boucher's (1703-1770) portrait of the legendary
"Madame Pompadour," one of the crowning glories of the
collection. The Wallace Collection's comprehensive "Catalog
of Pictures III – French Art Before 1815," available
for five pounds), offers illuminating information: "…Jeanne-Antoinette
Poisson (1721-64) m. 1741 Ch.-G.-B. Le Normant…created marquise
de Pompadour and maitresse en titre to Louis XV (she became a
marquise when she became his mistress in other words);…in
1752 accorded the privileges, but not the title, of duchesse…Her
lavish patronage of the arts followed the rococo fashion, and
for the diversion of the King she created a series of richly decorated
and furnished interiors in her chateaux at Crecy (1746), Champs,
(1747) and Bellevue (1748-50), and in the Hotel d’Evreux
(1753) in Paris…" – a client every decorator dreams
of (my own comment).
"…Her vital interest in the Sèvres
factory and her extensive patronage of Boucher were amongst her
greatest enthusiasms…The 1st Marquis of Hertford, who began
the Wallace Collection, met her in Paris in 1763 and found her
‘most polite and obliging, with a great deal more sense and
conversation that I expected’…" The Provenance
reveals that the 4th Marquis paid 15,000 francs for the painting
in the Marigny Sale. Gazing at the portrait one marvels at the
creativity of the seamstress; all those frills edged with lace,
tiny silk bows and ruches, speak volumes for the fine workmanship
of a bygone era.
References to Madame Pompadour and Louis XV
continue in the "Back State Room", which is awash with
objets "rococo," a term derived from "rocaille,"
or loose stones. Its asymmetrical, swirling style is captured
to perfection in a "Commode," or chest of drawers by
the cabinet maker Antoine-Robert Gaudreaus (circa 1680-1751) and
Jacques Caffieri (1673-1755), (who made the gilt-bronze mounts)
for Louis XV's bedroom in 1739. The commode was privy to the Kings
deathbed confession, was inherited by the duc d’Aumont, First
Gentleman of the Bedchamber, and must have witnessed the French
Revolution. Perhaps a hurried departure from the oncoming hordes
was responsible for the loss of its original red and gray marble
Sèvres powder-boxes, pomade pots, patch
boxes (for those wonderful masques and balls) and clothes brushes
are elegant reminders of a life with servants, maids and valets,
all dashing about to beautify and groom their wealthy lords and
ladies as they dressed for sumptuous balls and fanciful fetes.
Jean-Claude Duplessis’s (d. 1774) "Toilet Service,"
(French, circa 1763) exemplifies his many talents – he was
a sculptor, goldsmith and founder and chaser of metal. He worked
as a designer at the Sèvres factory, and probably designed
all the porcelain shapes made before 1763.
For more serious moments there is the wonderful
inkstand, shown above, by Jean-Claude Duplessis, from1758, strewn
with delicately painted "putti," rose garlands and miniature
globes, surmounted by the French Royal Crown. It works artistically
because it was created by a Frenchman, and was given by Louis
XV to his daughter, Marie-Adelaide. There was a bell inside the
crown once, so that the dear girl could ring for a servant to
deliver the note she had penned moments earlier…ah, the good
Sèvres was situated near Madame de Pompadour’s
chateau at Bellevue. In 1756 the Vincennes porcelain factory moved
there, and her wish to involve the King in its success resulted
in him becoming it sole proprietor, with the right to produce
any kind of white porcelain. The factory was nationalized in 1793,
having survived the French Revolution – in itself a feat,
as all of the objects produced there were destined for the dining
rooms and state rooms of the wealthy nobility, or as status symbols
of the very society the Revolution sought to abolish.
Furniture, of course, was appropriately ornate
and the Wallace Collection has impressive works by André-Charles
Boulle (1642-1732), generally recognized as the first great French
In the Dining Room there are two exquisite
portraits of "The Marquise de Belestat," lady-in-waiting
to the daughters of Louis XV, (French, 1755) and "The Comtesse
de Tillieres" (French, 1755) by Jeanne-Marc Nattier (1685-1766).
The marquise is portrayed three-quarter length in the formal robes
à la française, in a portrait style repeated many
times by Nattier for fashionable ladies of the court. Louis XV
had seven daughters; he sent four of them away from Court for
their upbringing because they were too expensive to maintain!
Marie-Adelaide avoided this fate by clinging to him in tears when
asked to leave with them, and he indulged her.
The large drawing room was witness to a grand
ball given by the 2nd Marchioness in 1814 to celebrate the defeat
of Napoleon, who was languishing in exile on the island of Elba;
the guests of honor were the Prince Regent and Britain's allies
against Napoleon, the Emperor of Russia and the King of Prussia.
It is now hung with the only set of four topographical views of
Venice (still together as a series): the Grand Canal with "Riva
del vin and the Rialto Bridge," (Italian, 1770-6) is one
of them – the historic bridge mentioned by Shakespeare in
"The Merchant of Venice,"…"Signior Antonio,
many a time and oft in the Rialto you have rated me on my money
and my usances… still have I borne it with a patient shrug…for
sufferance is the badge of all our tribe…" Shylock’s
famous speech about how he felt as a Jew in Venice echoed Shakespeare’s
own intuitive and perceptively condemning views on anti-Semitism.
It is amazing how an image can fire the imagination, especially
a beautiful waterscape like this one.
The West Gallery is the "piece de resistance"
for lovers of French art, and contains some of the finest French
paintings in the world. 18th Century French painting was the passion/obsession
of the 4th Marquess, who lived sequestered with his beloved artworks
in his Rue Lafitte apartment in Paris. Highly neurotic and a hypochondriac,
"he would not even have drawn back his curtain to see a revolution
go past in the street…" noted a friend. He is forgiven
all his excesses for allowing us such pleasure, as these paintings
are dream-like, escapist, untainted with the realities of everyday
existence, which was why he like them. Fortunately he had a formidable
bank balance to back his obsession.
Jean-Antoine Watteau's (1684-1721) evocative
"The Music Party,"(French, circa 1718), the poetic "Harlequin
and Columbine," and the Rubenesque "Gilles and his Family,"(French
1716-18) are to be found in this gallery. Echoes of Rubens in
the color, handling and content of "Gilles and his Family"
are no accident; around 1708, Watteau joined Claude III Audran,
a decorative artist and ‘concierge’ of the luxurious
Luxembourg Palace, which then housed the Marie de Medici cycle
by Rubens, which Watteau admired enormously.
Further along in time, Jean-Honoré Fragonard's
(1732-1806) magical "The Swing," ((French, 1767), "The
Souvenir," (c.1776-8) and "Le Petit Parc,"(circa
1764-5), which is evocative of "The Isle of Love" in
the Calouste Gulbenkian Collection (See The
City Review article on the exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum
of Art on "Calouste Gulbenkian – 'Objets de Joie'")
are a heady accompaniment to a truly mouth-watering visual symphony.
This artistically gifted son of a tradesman moved to Paris in
1738, studied briefly under Chardin in 1748 before becoming a
pupil of Boucher (1748-52). He garnered the "Prix de Rome"
in 1752, but found the academic disciplines of art tiresome. Natoire,
a contemporary observer told Marigny that "Fragonard was
very talented but impatient, careless in his copies and constantly
changing his ideas." Nonetheless, his work is awesome, probably
because he marched to his own drum and was not overly concerned
with the politics of the academies and societies of his day.
In 1760, Fragonard stayed at the Villa D’Este
with the Abbey de Saint-Non and continued to tour Italy with him
for the remainder of that year. The theme of picturesque, overgrown
Italianate gardens recur in his work, leaving to posterity some
of the most poetic and magical landscapes ever painted. (See
The City Review article on the Calouste
Gulbenkian exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which
contains a reproduction of another very fine Fragonard landscape.)
We think of Fragonard primarily as a magnificent sketcher of idyllic
and very romantic paintings with lovers in lush gardens or beautiful
women in their boudoirs or living rooms, but his skill as a landscape
painter is often overlooked and is most interesting for its density.
Sometimes, he consummately combined these skills as manifested
by the set of four panels "The Progress of Love," now
in the Frick Collection in New York, and which Madam du Barry
rejected in 1773. What was the lady looking for one wonders? They
are drop-dead gorgeous and once were in the collection of J. P.
Moran, one of history's greatest collectors.
Lady Wallace's private sitting room, or "Boudoir,"
is hung with many paintings by Greuze (1725-1805), who was greatly
admired by the 4th Marquess. While they appear quite sentimental
to modern eyes, it is easy to see how their charm and beauty might
have influenced Sir Joshua Reynolds (see "Somerset House
– London" The City Review), whose "The Strawberry
Girl," (English, 1773) and "Mrs. Jane Bowles" (English,
1775) rise above vapid sentimentality to become English classics
– rosy cheeks, adorable spaniels – wonderful stuff.
This room contains a fascinating gold and carnelian snuff box,
commissioned by Voltaire after the death of his Mistress, the
Marquise du Chatelet; miniature portraits of them both slide out
from the base in a romantic gesture of hide-and-seek. (Johann-Christian
Neuber, Snuff Box, German, circa 1770-5).
"The Great Gallery," which could
also be called the "Grand Finale," as its name implies,
contains masterpieces of world renown, and is a testimonial to
the 4th Marquess’ connoisseurship. In an age that favored
Renaissance art, he chose to collect paintings of the finest quality
by 17th and 18th century artists. Among the jewels are Peter Paul
Rubens's "The Rainbow Landscape," (Flemish, circa 1636),
an idealized vision of a real landscape where the 58-year-old
painter bought a country chateau – and happily spent the
rest of his life with his beautiful and voluptuous young second
wife, Helene Fourment, who he had married when she was 16 (See
The City Review article on Metropolitan
Museum's exhibtion on "Calouste Gulbenkian – Objets
de Joie," for more Rubens and a reproduction of a fine
portrait of Helene.) Rubens, of course, is one of history's most
remarkable artists whose fabulous technique was matched by his
incredibly dynamic compositions.
"The Laughing Cavalier," by Frans
Hals (Dutch, 1582/3-1666), shown above, is so famous it was wonderful
to feel a tingle of excitement despite the familiarity of the
image; his strange expression is neither a laugh or a smile, and
he is not a cavalier according to the Wallace Collection catalog.
In 1865, when the painting came up for sale, few had heard
of Hals. The 4th Marquess, determined to have it, bid against
his good friend Baron de Rothschild and won it at a price –
six times that of the sale estimate. Its fame spread, Hals was
re-instated as a major artist, and the painting became an icon.
At his best, as here, Hals brings great gusto and freshness to
his subjects as well as bravura brushwork that significantly predates
Gainsborough, Velasquez, Poussin and Van Dyck
jostle for position, with Titian’s "Perseus and Andromeda,"
(Italian, 1553-62) and Rembrandt's fifteen-year-old son "Titus,"
(circa 1657) stealing the show. In 1890, there were twelve Rembrandts
in the Wallace Collection, but by 1990 there was only "Titus,"
painted a year after the artist was declared bankrupt.
Controversies over authenticity accounted for
the re-attributions of several works. Five paintings formerly
attributed to Rembrandt were changed: "Portrait of an Elderly
Woman" by Backer, "The Unmerciful Servant" by Drost,
"The Good Samaritan" by Govert Flinck and the remarkable
"A Young Negro Archer" also by Govert Flinck (1615-1660),
shown above. Drost was a pupil of Rembrandt on or before 1650.
Flinck trained in Lewwwarden but joined Rembrandt's studio in
1633 at the age of 17. Bol trained in Doedrecht and joined Rembrandt's
studio in 1637 at the age of 19. The remaining 6 paintings re-attributed
to "Circle of Rembrandt," "Imitator of Rembrandt,"
"After Rembrandt," and "Landscape with a Coach"
was "ascribed to Rembrandt." Only "Titus,"
a fine version of a series of portraits the artist did of his
son, retained its original attribution to Rembrandt.
It is the continuous procession of "choice"
masterpieces that make the Wallace an awe-inspiring experience,
especially of the 4th Marquess’ connoisseurship.
Among the many superb Old Master
paintings in the collection are the marvelous Bellineseque "St.
Catherine" by Giovanni Battista Cima da Conegliano (1459/60-1517/8),
shown above, and excellent works by Bernardo Luini, Canaletto,
Guardi, and Greuze.
Lady Wallace bequeathed all the contents of
the ground and first floors to the British nation, and the rest
to her late husband's secretary, John Murray-Scott, which held
as rich a treasure trove of French furniture as the present Wallace
Collection, but is now scattered across the world.
The Reserve Collection, housed in the lower
ground floor, lays open the vaults and drawers for further exploration,
and confidently expose infrequent mistakes. One famous vault is
devoted to fakes and forgeries. By the terms of the will, nothing
was to be added or taken away from the Wallace Collection and
that has been honored to this day, unlike some other famous private
collections. Only in recent decades have other museums, such as
the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, made serious efforts
to show more of their collections in their limited spaces and
these "reserve" collections are usually quite fascinating
and offer opportunities to match wits with curators' choices for
the main exhibition galleries. They also reinforce the education
of a connoisseur. (See The City Review article
If you, or the youngsters, are curious about
the process involved in antiquing armor, gilding on metal or the
techniques of Boulle marquetry, rush to the Conservation Gallery,
also on the lower ground floor. You may be given the opportunity
to try on an English Civil War helmet or brandish a sword from
the 16th Century. More museums should have such educational and
Should you need one last French "fix"
before departing, you will find it up on the Landing, which is
festooned with Boucher's "The Rising Sun," (1753), shown
above, and the "The Setting Sun," (1753) – there
is enough rosy-fleshed nakedness and abandon here to send you
merrily on your way. A commentator at the Salon of 1753 complained
that one should not take one's wife or daughter – the excessive
nudity was so shocking! If the guns and armor fail with the kids,
nudity always works, especially these graceful and very beautiful
naked bodies that stop short of titillation but not delight in
the feminine physique, if not mystique.
The Museum's gift shop is a treasure trove
of reproductions, decorative items for the home and wonderful
books, the most impressive of which are the Wallace Collection's
own Catalogue of Pictures, divided by style and period (i.e. Catalog
III, "French art before 1815") etc. A "must"
before negotiating the intricacies of this collection is the "Guide
to the Wallace Collection," published by the Trustees of
the Wallace Collection, 2000, 5 pounds. It places the objects
and paintings in the context of their time, whilst offering juicy
historical and family gossip to balance the seriousness and importance
of the art, with many color illustrations, on offer. With the
shopping done, there is the elegant Café Bagatelle conveniently
on hand for a quiet cup of tea.
During World War II, Hertford House, the home
of the Wallace Collection, narrowly escaped destruction by bombing
but fortunately its art collections had already been evacuated.
This wonderful museum is open from 10 AM to
5 PM Mondays through Saturdays and from noon to 5 PM on Sundays,
but is closed on December 24, 25, 26 and 31 and January 1 and
2, Good Friday and May Day Bank holiday. Admission is free.