Wallace Collection


Hertford House, Manchester Square, W1U 3BN


020-7563 9500



Opening times:

Daily 10:00–17:00

How to get there:

Tube: Bond Street

Entry fee:


Additional information:

Restaurant and shop

Built in 1776 for the 4th Duke of Manchester, Hertford House lies on the north side of handsome Manchester Square and is home to a remarkable collection of works of art. The collection was formed by successive members of the Seymour-Conway family, Marquesses of Hertford, and Sir Richard Wallace, natural son of the fourth marquess. Sir Richard Wallace’s widow bequeathed the collection to the nation in 1897, on condition that nothing was added or removed from it, and so the Wallace Collection remains today, its mix of paintings, furniture and decorative arts retaining much of the atmosphere of a grand aristocratic town mansion, as Hertford House was in its heyday.

The collection comprises important 18th- and 19th-century British portraits, mainly collected by the first and second marquesses, and a large collection of 17th-century Dutch and Flemish pictures, collected by the third marquess. Its chief importance and glory, however, is the exceptional collection of 18th-century French painting, sculpture, furniture, porcelain and objets d’art, amassed by the fourth marquess and unparalleled in this country. In this area the Wallace collection outdoes both the National Gallery and the V&A. It was the fourth marquess who purchased two of the museum’s greatest treasures: Fragonard’s The Swing, and Frans Hals’s Laughing Cavalier. Sir Richard Wallace added an extensive collection of medieval and Renaissance works as well as the important collection of arms and armour, the latter second only to the Royal Armouries.

Richard Seymour-Conway, 4th Marquess of Hertford (1800–70) spent much of his life in France, in Paris in an apartment on rue Lafitte, and at the Château de Bagatelle in the Bois de Boulogne. Collecting was an obsession, made possible through the extraordinary works of art on the market following the French Revolution. He purchased works by the leading 18th-century painters Boucher, Watteau, Fragonard, Lancret and Greuze, as well as items by the finest French cabinet makers such as Boulle and Riesener. On his death in 1870 Hertford House was bought by his natural son, Sir Richard Wallace, from his cousin, the fifth marquess. To contain the collection, Sir Richard and his French wife altered and extended the house, most importantly adding to the rear the Great Gallery, designed by Thomas Ambler. The collection was open to a select public, via a separate entrance on Spanish Place. Following Lady Hertford’s bequest to the nation, much was done to retain the house’s palatial character, which opened to the public in 1900.

Recent redevelopment (Rick Mather) has provided the museum with its first dedicated exhibition space, a watercolour gallery and a lecture theatre. The new rooms are in the basement, accessed by steps from the central courtyard, which has been glazed and is now the museum’s restaurant, Bagatelle, named after the family’s French house. With its fountain and potted palms, it has the air of a late Victorian or Edwardian conservatory, and is a pleasant and sedate place to eat.



The Wallace Fountain

On the front lawn of Hertford House stands a Wallace Fountain, one of the type of 50 donated by Sir Richard Wallace in 1872 to the city of Paris, where they have become known simply as ‘wallaces’. Designed by Charles-August Labourg, the fountains provided a free supply of clean water, and were enthusiastically received by pedestrian Parisians. The ornamental dome of the fountain is supported by four caryatids representing the gowned goddesses of Simplicity, Temperance, Charity and Kindness, distinguishable by their knees, whether left or right, covered or bare. Eighty-two Wallace Fountains can now be found in different parts of Paris, with at least six in other French cities and towns, and others in more than 20 cities worldwide, with one most recently installed in Macao (the second in Asia after Tokyo).

Sir Richard Wallace (1818–90) was born Richard Jackson, son of the twenty-eight-year-old Agnes Jackson, née Wallace, with whom the eighteen-year-old fourth marquess of Hertford had an affair. Richard was brought up in Paris by his grandmother Maria Fagnani, Lady Hertford, known as Mie-Mie. In 1935 his increasingly reclusive father purchased the Château de Bagatelle in the Bois de Boulogne, where from 1842 he employed Richard, unacknowledged as his son but having adopted his mother’s maiden name, as his secretary, managing the growing collection of Hertford paintings and rare objets d’art.

In the year of his father’s death in 1870, Richard Wallace inherited the estate and was caught up in the Siege of Paris and the painful birth of the Second Republic. Staying on in the city, he paid for an ambulance and a hospital bearing the Hertford name. Beleaguered by the Prussians and forced to accept a humiliating peace, the city’s violent suppression of the Paris Commune in the following year persuaded Wallace to remove his art collection to London for safe-keeping, offering the 50 fountains as a farewell gift.



Tour of the House

Through the glass-fronted porte-cochère and to the right of the handsome Entrance Hall, is the Front State Room with displays of royal and family portraits, including George II by Allan Ramsay, presented by the king to the first marquess, and Hoppner’s George IV as Prince of Wales, presented to the third marquess when Lord Yarmouth. The Back State Room displays objects relating to Louis XV and his mistress Madame de Pompadour: a French marble-topped commode (1739) by Antoine-Robert Gaudreaus and Jean-Jacques Caffieri, with applied gilt bronze mounts, extending over the front in exuberant Rococo scrolls, made for Louis XV’s bedchamber at Versailles; a gilt bronze chandelier by Caffieri, the leading French metal founder and chaser, given by Louis XV to his daughter Louise-Elisabeth; several important pieces of Sèvres porcelain, including bright green, gilded and floral decorated elephant vases and a porcelain inkstand with terrestrial and celestial globes, designed by Jean-Claude Duplessis and given by Louis XV to his daughter Marie-Adelaide; and an elaborate musical clock (c. 1762), also by Duplessis, its dial surrounded by lavish flowers and surmounted by a spaniel with a game bird.

The Dining Room has aristocratic French portraiture, including an image by Nattier of the Marquise de Belestrat, lady-in-waiting to Louis XV’s daughters; and marble busts by Houdon of Madame Victoire, one of the daughters, and Madame de Sérilly, maid of honour to Marie Antoinette. The Billiard Room takes a step back to the reign of Louis XIV. He appears, posthumously, in a portrait of his children with their governess. Other items include a terracotta bust (1676) of Charles Le Brun, the king’s painter, by Antoine Coyzevox, the king’s sculptor; a bronze bust (c. 1699) of the king, also by Coyzevox; and an exceptional example of Boulle, the great French cabinet maker, a wardrobe (c. 1715), veneered with contre-partie Boulle marquetry (sheets of turtleshell and brass glued together and a design cut out) with elaborate gilt bronze mounts.

Through the glass doors in the bow of the Dining Room, steps on the left lead down to the new galleries in the basement, an exhibition gallery and a Watercolour Gallery. On show is the exceptional group of works by Richard Parkes Bonington including his Venice: the Piazzetta, (1826); Sunset in the Pays de Caux (1828); and A Lady dressing her Hair (1827), in van Dyck costume of a vibrant emerald green.

The Housekeeper’s Room contains 19th-century French pictures, principally Delacroix’s The Execution of the Doge Marino Faliero (1825–26), which was inspired, like Donizetti’s opera, by Byron’s poem about the 14th-century execution.


Renaissance and Medieval Galleries and Armouries

The 16th-century Gallery contains the remarkable collection of medieval and Renaissance treasures collected by Sir Richard Wallace, which includes Pieter Pourbus’s An Allegory of Love; an Elizabethan standing salt and cover (1578) with elaborate Renaissance form chasing; Limoges painted enamels; Venetian 16th-century glass; and a marble bust of Christ by Pietro Torrigiano, from Westminster Abbey.

Wallace decorated his Smoking Room with Turkish-design Minton tiles and a mosaic floor. Further treasures can be found here: a late 16th-century German hare pendant, its body a great baroque pearl; bronze firedogs after sculptural designs by Algardi, Jupiter Victorious over the Titans and Juno Controlling the Winds, owned by Louis XV; and an important collection of Italian majolica. Of particular note is the large wine cooler (1574), from the collection of Cosimo de’ Medici; and an important dish signed by Giorgio Andreoli of Gubbio, 6th April 1525, whose workshop was famous for its lustrewares, decorated with a scene of bathing maidens taken from an engraving after Raphael. The Horn of St Hubert, said to have been given by the Bishop of Liège to Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy in 1468, is encrusted with gesso, painted, gilded and decorated with champlevé enamel, while the 7th-century ‘Bell of St Mura’, a bell-cover of bronze adorned with Celtic tracery, crystal and semi-precious stones, is from the Abbey of Donegal.

The remaining rooms on the ground floor contain the astonishing collection of arms and armour built up by Sir Richard Wallace, mainly through the wholesale purchase of the collection of the Comte de Nieuwerkerke, Napoleon III’s Minister of Fine Arts and Director of the Louvre, and the opportunity of the pick of Sir Samuel Rush Meyrick’s collection, the great scholar of arms and armour in England. The Oriental Armoury contains objects from India, Persia and the territories of the Ottoman Empire, many of them in fact collected by the fourth marquess and of outstanding quality: the exceptionally fine 17th-century Indian dagger (arguably one of the finest in the world), made at the Mughal court for either Jahangir or Shah Jahan, with a solid gold hilt set with diamonds and a floral design of rubies, with leaves of emeralds; a late 15th-century Persian dagger, the hilt carved jade, the blade decorated with jackals and hares amid floral arabesques; silver-gilt tiger-headed 18th-century Indian ceremonial maces; Tipu Sultan’s tulwar, a type of scimitar; and the gold and ivory sword of Ranjit Singh.

The European Armoury I displays 10th- to early 16th-century items, including a 10th-century sword; swords used by Crusader knights; an early 15th-century German mail shirt; a visored basinet helmet, light and close-fitting, made in Milan c. 1390; an ornate short-sword made for Cosimo de’ Medici; an early 15th-century English or Flemish jousting helmet; and a late 15th-century German tournament shield, decorated with painted and gilded foliage.

The European Armoury II contains the most important pieces in the collection: the equestrian armour, for horse and rider, made c. 1475–85 at Landshut in southern Germany with characteristic shell-like flutings, one of the few examples known to retain its original horse-armour; and the 1555 German close helmet, made by Conrad Richter of Augsburg as part of the Golden Garniture ordered by the future Holy Roman Emperor, Ferdinand I. Alongside these items is Lord Buckhurst’s suit of armour, made c. 1587 at the royal workshops established by Henry VIII at Greenwich; and a French dagger (c. 1600) presented by the City of Paris to Henri IV on his marriage to Marie de’ Medici. The European Armoury III contains sporting guns, rifles and pistols, including an important collection of Napoleonic era flint-locks, illustrative of the rise of the firearm from the 16th-–19th centuries.


First Floor

The white marble Staircase, rising grandly to the first floor, has a magnificent balustrade (1719–20) of cast and wrought iron and gilt brass, originally from the stairs leading to Louis XV’s Cabinet de Médailles in the Palais Mazarin, Paris. One of the finest examples of French metalwork of the period, it was sold as scrap in the mid-19th century, bought by the fourth marquess, and, in 1847, altered to fit Hertford House and installed by Sir Richard Wallace. Hanging on the stairs and Landing are important paintings by François Boucher: A Summer Pastoral and An Autumn Pastoral (1745), with characters from Favart’s popular pantomimes. In the first appear the cousins Babette and Lisette, the latter being serenaded by the Little Shepherd who, in the second, feeds her grapes. The more important, superb pair, The Rising of the Sun and The Setting of the Sun, exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1753, show the sun god Apollo rising from the river Oceana to make his journey across the heavens. In the latter he sinks back below the waves. Madame de Pompadour ordered tapestries from these paintings, made by the Gobelins Manufactory, and displayed them, along with the pictures, at her château at Bellevue.

The Small Drawing Room contains fine Canaletto views of Venice, purchased by the third marquess: Venice: The Bacino di San Marco from the Canale della Giudecca and Venice: The Bacino di San Marco from San Giorgio Maggiore (both c. 1735–44), as well as views by Guardi purchased by the fourth marquess. The Large and Oval Drawing Rooms were, at the time of the second marquess, magnificent ballrooms where, in 1814, a grand ball was held to celebrate the defeat of Napoleon. Among the objects in the former is a selection of important Sèvres porcelain, including a cup with a portrait of Benjamin Franklin, who had visited Paris in 1776 to gain French support for American independence from Britain. In the Oval Drawing Room, the chimneypiece (c. 1785) is the only one original to the house to survive; the French mantle clock (1775) has bronze figures of night and day reclining either side of the dial; a delicate reading and writing table by Martin Carlin from c. 1783–84, veneered with tulipwood and mounted with plaques of Sèvres porcelain; chairs (1786) by Jean-Baptiste Boulard, which were made for Louis XVI’s card room at Fontainebleau; and a roll-top desk (c. 1770) by Jean-Henri Riesener, the leading cabinet maker under Louis XVI and appointed the King’s Cabinet Maker in 1774, decorated with marquetry still life panels with books, a globe and papers, one with the seal of the Duc d’Orsay. From this room, bow windows overlook the former courtyard, now the restaurant.

Sir Richard Wallace’s Study displays more Sèvres, including an ice-cream cooler, part of a service made for Catherine the Great of Russia. Also here is an impressive Boulle wardrobe (c. 1700), with elaborate marquetry and gilt bronze decorations, illustrating scenes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Lady Wallace’s Boudoir has a number of important pieces: ‘fancy’ pictures by Greuze (The Broken Mirror; 1763) and Innocence (a young girl holding a lamb), and by Reynolds (The Strawberry Girl); an elaborate writing table and cabinet (c. 1765) for paper files, in imitation oriental lacquer, or green French vernis, with gilded decoration, the cabinet topped by Cupid and Psyche; several small 18th-century French luxury trinkets, such as gold snuff boxes with mother of pearl, enamel and porcelain decoration, some set with diamonds and other precious and semi-precious stones; a magnificent gold 55-piece toilet service, including breakfast implements, made in Augsburg in 1757–73; and Antoine-Nicolas Martinière’s perpetual calendar, made in 1741-–42 for Louis XV, consisting of four gilt-bronze frames containing enamelled copper plaques featuring the months, phases of the moon, days of the week, zodiac signs and Church feast days.

The West Room was Lady Wallace’s bedroom. Today it displays some of the fourth marquess’s exceptional collection of 18th-century French paintings and Louis XVI furniture. Boucher’s portrait of Madame de Pompadour shows her in her garden at Bellevue, the statuary group in the background, Friendship Consoling Love, a reflection of her now platonic relationship with the king. Also here are Boucher’s three canvases Venus and Vulcan, Mars and Venus Surprised by Vulcan and The Judgement of Paris; an elaborate perfume burner (1774–75) by Pierre Gouthière, which was formerly owned by Marie Antoinette; and a delicate worktable (1786–90) by Adam Weisweiler, which belonged to the Empress Josephine. The display continues in the West Gallery, where the full extent of the French 18th-century collection becomes apparent. Miniatures are also shown here, including Lucas Horenbout’s portrait of Holbein, but the chief exhibits are works by the leading French painters: works by Lancret and Pater; Watteau’s well-known Music Party (c. 1718), with music-making on a palatial terrace, a countryside vista in the background; his Harlequin and Columbine (c. 1716–18), with commedia dell’arte characters, including Pierrot and Crispin in the background; and Gilles and his Family, the central figure dressed as Harlequin’s rival, Mezzetin. One of the Wallace’s most famous paintings is Fragonard’s The Swing (1767), a picture full of artful abandon, flirtation and innuendo, the graceful, provocative girl poised in the air, the action of the swing tossing her delicate slipper in the direction of her lover. The secretaire (1783) by Jean-Henri Riesener was supplied for Marie-Antoinette at the Petit Trianon, Versailles.

On the east side of the house, the East Drawing Room was used in the early 19th-century by Isabella, wife of the 3rd Marquess of Hertford. It was here that she would entertain the Prince Regent on his daily visits between 1807 and 1820. The East Galleries I is the first of two galleries containing 17th-century Dutch and Flemish pictures, collected mainly by the third marquess, but also by the fourth. The gallery was built in 1871-–75 to give much needed extra space. Here are ‘low life’ genre scenes by Adriaen Brouwer and David Teniers the Younger; Rubens’ modelli (1628) for two of his proposed series of 24 paintings illustrating the life of Henri IV; Aert van der Neer’s A Skating Scene; and Jacob van Ruisdael’s Rocky Landscape. The East Galleries II continues the display, with genre scenes, townscapes and Dutch-Italianate landscapes, including Jan Steen’s Celebrating the Birth, Pieter de Hooch’s A Boy Bringing Bread, Gerard ter Borch’s A Lady Reading a Letter, Gabriel Metsu’s The Sleeping Sportsman, and Jan van der Heyden’s View of the Westerkerk, Amsterdam. The East Galleries III contains mainly landscapes, by Adam Pynacker, Jan Both and Albert Cuyp.

The main showpiece gallery was the Great Gallery, added by Sir Richard Wallace. Extending the full length of the back of the house, it was purpose-built for the display of pictures, with top-lighting, as well as for glamorous entertaining. A water-powered lift provided additional access. Important works include Rubens’ The Rainbow Landscape (c. 1636), a late summer afternoon scene on the artist’s country estate. It is the pendant to Het Steen in the National Gallery, which had wanted to acquire the painting when it came on the market in 1858 but was outbid by the fourth marquess. Two full-lengths by van Dyck, Marie de Raet (1631) and Philippe de Roy (1630), were painted shortly before the artist settled in London in 1632. Van Dyck owned Titian’s Perseus and Andromeda, painted originally for Philip II of Spain, purchased by the third marquess in 1815. Also in the room is a bronze equestrian statuette of Louis XIV, a reduced version of the full-scale work by Desjardins erected in Lyons in 1713 but destroyed at the French Revolution; Poussin’s exceptional Dance to the Music of Time; Philippe de Champaigne’s Annunciation, the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, with rays of divine light illuminating Mary; and Rembrandt’s portrait of his teenage son Titus. Probably the best known item in the Wallace Collection is Frans Hals’s famous Laughing Cavalier. Painted in 1624, the identity of the man, neither a cavalier nor laughing, is unknown. The fourth marquess outbid Baron de Rothschild for the picture, paying six times its auction estimate, which at the time added to the picture’s celebrity. The 18th-century portraits were in the collections of the first and second marquesses: Gainsborough’s Mrs Robinson as Perdita (1781) was commissioned by the Prince of Wales after he had seen the actress perform the role from Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale at Drury Lane; she holds the miniature of him he sent to her. Reynolds’s Nelly O’Brien shows the well-known beauty and courtesan seated with a pet dog in her lap, her face shaded by the brim of her hat. Lawrence’s slick portrait George IV (1822) was thought by the artist to be his best likeness of the king, and is mentioned in Thackeray’s Vanity Fair.

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Details below are taken from our Blue Guide Museums and Galleries of London.  This is a 2005 title, here generally updated for website address and opening times, with useful comments from some of the museums themselves.  More recent information is given in Emily Barber's magisterial new Blue Guide London, "Exceptional update to a classic and useful guide to this amazing city" (Amazon reader review).

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