When it comes to art galleries in London, there’s a danger that the big beasts – Trafalgar Square’s National Gallery and the Tates – can suck up all the air and overshadow all the others. As a visitor to the UK capital, though, it’s very much in your interest not to think that way and that these world-famous venues are all the city has to offer… because there truly is so much more. Indeed, one example is Marylebone’s magnificent and adored Wallace Collection.
To be found within the oh-so elegant environs of Hertford House in Manchester Square (a one-time townhouse of the historically resonant Seymour family; check your Tudor history for their ancestors), it’s made up of a supreme selection of both European fine art and decorative art examples spanning around 500 years (the 15th to the 19th Centuries) and features everything from perfect paintings from the brushes of the Old Masters to exquisite porcelain and pristine furniture to glistening arms and armour.
Eventually bequeathed and opening up fully for public view at the turn of the 20th Century, the collection is, in total, made up of a staggering 5,500 individual items spread across 25 different galleries. Indeed, its fine art treasures alone include nine Rubenses, eight Canelettos, five Rembrandts, four van Dycks, two Velázquezes, two Titians and further efforts by Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough and Frans Hals.
Moreover, another reason why you might fancy venturing into Central London from wherever you might be staying (such as hotels near Moorgate, like The Montcalm at The Brewery London City) and stepping through this excellent venue’s doors is because it continuously puts on outstanding exhibitions that are entirely free to the public – although you’d be well advised to book in advance! Right now, you can enjoy the following two exhibits…
The Gilded Age: Models from the Linke Furniture Workshop
(8th April-24th September)
A showcase of some of the most beautiful and most easy-on-the-eye furniture you’ll ever come across, this display is dedicated to the luxury items created by Gilded Age cabinet-maker François Linke (1855-1945), whose international clients ate up this Parisian craftsman’s sophisticated creations at a time when French fashion enjoyed a boon of popularity throughout the Western world – and the wider world too. As you may expect, the exhibition looks as much at his career and life as it does the furniture he produced, including artefacts from the ‘Linke archive’ to show just how he produced his efforts through the different stages of production (including 3D models in wax, plaster and wood and written record books). Fascinating.
El Greco to Goya – Spanish Masterpieces from The Bowes Museum
(27th September 2017-7th January 2018)
A collaborative exhibition between the Wallace Collection and the Bowes Museum (based in Northern England’s County Durham), this is all about the bold, daring masterpieces produced during the Renaissance by its Spanish contributors. Spanning a hugely eventful and dramatic 300 years of Iberian art, it offers up one of the largest collections of its kind to be found anywhere in the UK and, as announced in its title, will run the gamut; from the Cretan-born painter, sculptor and architect that was ‘El Greco’ (or, if you prefer, Doménikos Theotokópoulos) – whose style is today recognised as a precursor to Expressionism and Cubism – to the legendary romantic painter and printmaker Francisco Goya, who’s widely perceived as the last of the Old Masters and the first of the ‘moderns’.
Address: Wallace Collection, Hertford House, Manchester Square W1U 3BN
Open: 10am-5pm daily
Transport: Bond Street Tube station (Central and Jubilee lines); Wigmore Street/ Orchard Street bus stop (routes 13 and 139)