advertisement

A little bit V&A (decorative arts and furniture), a little bit National Gallery (paintings and portraits), but with a boutique French flair, the Wallace celebrates fine living in an extravagant 19th-century city mansion, the former Hertford House. Rooms drip with chandeliers, clocks, suits of armor, and furniture, usually of royal provenance, and there’s not a clunker among the paintings. While other museums were stocking up on Renaissance works, the Wallaces, visionaries of sorts, were buying 17th- and 18th-century artists for cheap, and now its collection shines. You might recognize Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s The Swing (Oval Drawing Room), showing a maiden kicking her slipper to her suitor below. Peter Paul Rubens’ The Rainbow Landscape is also here (East Drawing Room), as is the world’s most complete room of furniture belonging to Marie-Antoinette (Study; look for her initials hidden around a keyhole on one cabinet). Thomas Gainsborough’s Mrs. Mary Robinson “Perdita” (West Room) depicts the sloe-eyed actress in mid-affair with the Prince of Wales; she holds a token of his love, a miniature portrait, in her right hand. If she exudes suspicion, it’s for good reason—the Prince dumped her before the paint was dry. Don’t miss the recently restored Great Gallery, a stupendous tour de force of world-class old master paintings. Red folders contain descriptions of pictures, and gold ones are for furniture—the information even tells who owned them before they got here. Be in the Ground Floor State Rooms at the top of the hour, when a chorus of golden musical clocks announce midday direct from the 1700s. Kids should grab a free trail map, which leads them to the most attention-holding works, but adults should get the audio guide which highlights 80 of the best items for £4. The Wallace Restaurant, in the covered courtyard, has an exemplary atmosphere but stupidly high prices, although its French-styled afternoon tea is under £19 or just £7 if you only want tea and scones.