The Wallace Collection - A Beacon of Culture
The Wallace Collection is an internationally outstanding collection housed in Hertford House in London, which contains unsurpassed masterpieces of old master paintings, decorative arts, sculpture, furniture, metalwork, arms and armour and porcelain. The art collection alone includes works by Titian, Rubens, Velázquez, Fragonard, Gainsborough, Frans Hals and Canaletto. As a national collection, it is one of the finest and most celebrated collections in the world.
The works were originally collected by the first four Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace. Sir Richard Wallace is believed to have been the fourth Marquess’ illegitimate son, but he was never acknowledged as such and there is unfortunately no definitive evidence one way or the other. After growing up in France, he became the fourth Marquess’ secretary and agent, and on his death inherited most of his property including most of the artworks. Richard Wallace thus became a very rich man, and was a great philanthropist both in France and in Britain, and for this he was eventually made a baronet. He continued the fourth Marquess’ collecting habits, adding to the existing collection important collections of medieval and Renaissance objects and European arms and armour. His main focus was on objects that had belonged to important people and had a direct connection to significant historical events.
The house, where the Wallace Collection is housed today, began in 1776 when the Duke of Manchester acquired ground on the north side of Manchester Square to form the centerpiece of a new square named in his honor. In 1797, the 2nd Marquess of Hertford acquired the lease of Manchester House for his principal London residence, and since then it has been passed down through the family. When Sir Richard Wallace inherited Hertford House, the political situation in France was somewhat precarious, so he decided to transplant himself and his wife, together with the majority of the French part of the art collection back to London. He changed the name from Manchester House to Hertford House in honor of his late father, the 4th Marquess of Hertford.
The house was more of a museum than a home, even when Sir Richard and Lady Wallace lived in it. Several well-known people from the time visited during this period were recorded in the first visitors’ book, including Princess Vicky, the first daughter of Queen Victoria, the artists Auguste Rodin and John Everett Millais, the noted novelist Thomas Hardy, and Elizabeth Garret Anderson, the first woman to qualify as a doctor in Britain. When Benjamin Disraeli visited in 1878, he called the collection ‘this palace of genius fancy & taste’.
Richard Wallace died in 1890 and left everything to his wife, Julie Amelie Castelnau, otherwise known as Lady Wallace. Sir Richard had expressed the wish that his collection might become a museum after his death, but it was Lady Wallace who left almost all the artworks to the nation as a museum when she died in 1897. Ferdinand de Rothschild, when he heard about the bequest said that ‘No country has ever had such a windfall’. Lady Wallace chose the name, The Wallace Collection, presumably as fitting memorial to her husband. According to Lady Wallace’s will, no items are to be added to the collection or removed from it, so the collection remains largely as Sir Richard left it.
After some debate by the government on how best to house the art collection, the museum opened to the public on 25th June 1900 and excluding times of crisis has been open ever since for visitors to enjoy Sir Richard Wallace’s wonderful legacy of around 5,500 works of art in a beautiful and historic setting.
In 2018, the Wallace Collection opened new exhibition galleries, and has hosted renowned temporary exhibitions on founder Sir Richard Wallace, the artist Henry Moore, and the enormously popular Forgotten Masters: Indian Painting for the East India Company.
Today, the Wallace Collection has developed a suite of online content to help online visitors engage with the Collection from the safety of their own homes as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Our new online hub, Wallace from Home, has given us the opportunity to explore the Collection in a variety of new ways. Online gallery trails, Meet the Expert stories, and online courses and content all play a fundamental role in what makes the Collection a vibrant and exciting place where visitors can discover their next favorite work of art in an instant.
Discover more online and find out What’s On at
All text © Trustees of the Wallace Collection, London.
Photography by Thierry Bal