Tuesday, 13 September 2016


My next planned post was to have been on the visit the bf and I made to Houghton Hall.  However on Wednesday I went up to town to meet my brother.  One of the things he wanted to see was the Wallace Collection.  And I was so impressed with what I saw I decided on the train home to alter my plans. One of the themes of this blog has been the 'Schatzkammer', or treasury.  A place of concentrated wonder.  Enlarging on that theme this blog has also turned out to be about the enchantment, or rather re-enchantment, with the world.  A position, I suppose, against what Max Webber termed 'entzauberung' or dis-enchantment with the world in the state of Modernity.  The Wallace Collection more than satisfied both categories for inclusion in this blog.  Such was its richness that it was almost overwhelming, and we left sated after an hour or so without seeing it all.
Anyway we met up outside Baker Street tube and walked down Marylebone High St., popping into the Conran Shop, the lovely Daunt Books, and St James, Spanish Place, a little known Gothic Revival church built by Edward Goldie and has a very good interior - lofty and vaulted.  It was a part of London that George did not know at all and I hadn't visited for years.

Daunt Books

The Wallace Collection is housed in Hertford House one of London's remaining aristocratic town houses.  It occupies an island site on the north side of Manchester Square, just north of Oxford St..  It became the town house of the Hertfords in 1795, and is a somewhat unprepossessing building to house such a spectacular collection.  Like that of Viscount FitzWilliam, that became the core of the Fitzwilliam Museum, The Wallace Collection is an aristocratic creation - the work of three generations: the 3rd & 4th Marquesses of Hertford and Richard Wallace the latter's illegitimate son.
At the heart of Wallace's collection is the fine and applied art of France, particularly from what is is termed 'Le Grande Siecle'.  It is the 4th Marquess that is responsible for this part of the collection, indeed he was one of the great collectors of the 19th century.  There is marble, bronze, ormolu and boulle aplenty, and the craftsmanship on display is at times quite breathtaking.  Cabinets too of French porcelain and enamel ware, and then there is a whole host of exquisite miniatures. There are rooms of Watteau and Fragonard and Boucher - not really my taste but in conjunction with the applied art in each room the effect is staggering. In fact the Wallace Collection contains a number of famous paintings: Watteau's 'The Swing', Reynold's 'Portrait of Nelly O'Brien', Poussin's 'Dance to the Music of Time' and Hals' 'Laughing Cavalier'.  There is a hefty haul of Flemish art to keep the cavalier company including work by Rubens, Rembrandt and van Dyck.  There is too a gallery of Venetian Veduta paintings by Canaletto and Guardi - the latter was a discovery: much more painterly and atmospheric than Canaletto.  Other discoveries were a series of beautiful little landscapes by Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps (1803-1860), work by Richard Parkes Bonnington (1802-1828) and a group of painterly sketches by Rubens.  The paintings on the whole tended towards portrature, and the rhetorical - religious, mythological and narrative.  The domestic was not so prevalent except in the Flemish galleries.  There was none, as far as I can remember, of the intimate, everyday subjects as you find in Chadrin and Oudry.  It was Sir Richard Wallace who bought the collection over from Paris in 1870, where he and the 4th Marquess before him made their home, and it was his widow, Lady Wallace, who left the collection to the nation.  Hertford House opened to the public in 1900.  We missed the rooms of Oriental and European armour and the Medieval and Renaissance galleries, but as I've already said we were feeling pretty sated after an hour or so.  It is possible to have too much of a good thing! Finally as a result of a major, decade long, refurbishment the gallery walls are hung with wonderful silks in a number of bold and striking colours and patterns, not only do they make the paintings sing but add a depth and intensity to the whole gallery going experience.  In all superlative.  I'm already thinking about making a return visit.

Lunch was taken in Paul Rothe and Son, a really lovely deli, just around the corner from The Wallace Collection in Marylebone Lane; early dinner in an old favourite of mine Polpo at Bird & Ape in Cambridge Circus.

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