The other Sunday we drove into town and visited the Wallace Collection in Manchester Square; parked right outside for free, perfect. The gallery is free entry, more perfect still. This is under the terms laid down by the French woman who bequeathed the collection to the nation: Lady Wallace, née Amélie-Julie Castelnau, widow of Sir Richard Wallace. Another key stipulation was that no item from the collection may be lent, ever. Hence, if you wish to see possibly its most famous object – The Laughing Cavalier by Frans Hals – you can only see it here. More significantly, perhaps, is that thanks to her, the institution is known as the Wallace Collection, in honour of her late husband, and not the Hertford Collection, the aristocratic family into which he was illegitimately born in 1818. But probably most importantly of all, Lady Wallace ensured that the overwhelming bulk of the Hertford treasure ended up in London rather than Paris. We owe her much.
Hertford House, home of the Wallace Collection
Sir Richard Wallace and his father, the 4th Marquis of Hertford, were both connoisseurs, collectors and devoted Francophiles, spending most of their time in France, mainly Paris. Lord Hertford died rather inconveniently during the Franco Prussian war of 1870 at a time when Richard mucked in as a generous benefactor of war relief for Parisians and the French soldiery, making a name for himself on both sides of the Channel. Richard inherited most of the estate, which included the massive collection and properties in Paris, London and Ireland.
Sir Richard Wallace, Bt. (1818 – 1890). What a jacket.
The Wallace Collection – assembled mainly by the 4th Dukes of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace – is extremely eclectic. It comprises paintings, furniture, glassware, sculpture, jewellery, ceramics, china, clocks, medallions, illuminated manuscripts and a massive dollop of medieval and Eastern armour. There is very little English to speak of. Its overall flavour, I think, is represented by extremely luxurious 18C French objects. Rich gold, pinks, blues, aquamarines abound: you could contract diabetes looking at this stuff for too long. I remember when first I visited Hertford House – it must have been 25 years ago – finding it all rather overwhelming. In fact, I didn’t care for it much. But subsequent visits, informed by things one has picked up over the years, has made me appreciate this institution so much more. So definitely an acquired taste and while I may never fully fall in love with the Wallace Collection, I will always derive much pleasure from visiting, and I think you will too.
Here are a few randomly selected images from our visit. All pics by Fiona Pretorius.
Posted in Art, Georgian period, People, Reviews, Victorian period | Tagged art, Canaletto, frans hals, laughing cavalier, london, manchester square, marquis of hertford, painting, richared wallace, wallace collection | 1 Comment »
George III was very interested in maps, collecting them in huge numbers, along with views, architectural drawings and miscellaneous printed ephemera. George IV, by contrast, was not. He dearly wished to convert his father’s library at Buck House into a ball room and very quickly began to dispose of the collection. Fortunately they were taken up by the British Museum and in 1973 ended up in their logical home: the British Library. The total collection amounts to over 60,000 item of which around 1,200 are directly London-related. While the British Library possesses 4.5 million maps in total, this is a very shiny jewel indeed.
The collection includes all the great maps of London in the original and because they were acquired through royal patronage and acquisition, they are best quality and in a very many cases, unique. Gems include original drawings by Robert Adam of the Adelphi and all the London churches by Hawksmoor. These represent the tip of an iceberg of drawings and plans from the leading architects of Georgian London. There are other etchings, engravings and views. Being famously miserly, George would encourage his buyers to pick up unsold items at auction. The result is that the collection also contains a large amount of ephemera, unloved in their day by connoisseurs but of massive value to the modern historian.
Wenceslaus Hollar’s famous survey of the destruction from the Great Fire, executed in 1667. Collection of the British Library.
Led by BL’s Head of Map Collections, Peter Barber, the department recently embarked on a project to digitise King George III’s Topographical Collection (K Top for short) in its entirely. With only their own staff to call upon and the work being too technical for volunteers, Unlock London Maps is expected to take at least four years but will be released online as it goes. Some, like those in this post, are already available. As a lover of maps, the prospect of further releases is a delicious one.
But the project needs to raise funds. The £100,000 overall target is a vital yet realistic number in this day and age and we encourage you to make a donation, large or small. Please do so via the Unlock London Maps Page.
We’ve organised a behind the scenes visit of BL’s Maps Collection on 12 June to view some of this treasure. It will be led by Peter himself. All of the £15 ticket money will go towards the fund. Members only, I’m afraid. If that’s you, make your booking here.
Here are a few more lovely examples from K Top.
Thamesis Descriptio by Robert Adams, the Queen’s architect, in anticipation of Spanish Invasion, 1588. Note South-North orientation. Collection of the British Library.
Gorgeous pocket map of London published in 1738 by Elizabeth Foster, after her late husband, George Foster. Collection of the British Library.
Hand-coloured map of the parish of St. Pancras, by J Tompson, 1804. Collection of the British Library.
T Horner’s plan and view of Kington upon Thames, 1813. Collection of the British Library.
Posted in Architecture, Art, Georgian period | Tagged British Library, charts, collections, ephemera, George III, George IV, history, london, london historians, london history, maps, views | 1 Comment »