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The Wallace Collection

An Awesome Array of Art, Arms & Armour

The Wallace Collection in London is a museum that displays an outstanding array of 18th-century French paintings & decorative arts, paintings from the 14th to the late 19th centuries, medieval & Renaissance works of art, and a small arsenal of princely arms & armour. Brought together by the first four Marquesses of Hertford & Sir Richard Wallace, the illegitimate son of the fourth Marquess, it is one of the finest & most celebrated collections in the world, comprising around 5,500 works of art. After Sir Richard’s widow generously bequeathed the collection to the British nation in 1897, it opened to the public as a museum in 1900, and even today, all paintings, furniture, sculptures & porcelain are displayed together in the manner of private collections of the 19th century, arranged in an aesthetically pleasing way, instead of chronologically or by materials. And because it was a gift to the nation, admission to the permanent exhibition is free.

Jean-Honoré Fragonard: The Swing
The Swing (c. 1767)

Highlights include The Laughing Cavalier by Frans Hals, noted for the sitter’s lavish costume, Peter Paul Rubens’ Rainbow Landscape, The Lady with a Fan by Diego Velázquez, two views of Venice’s San Marco basin by Canaletto, and The Swing, which is without doubt the most famous & salacious 18th-century French painting at the Wallace Collection, by Jean-Honoré Fragonard. Other examples of pre-revolutionary French masterpieces are a chest of drawers & a secretaire by Jean-Henri Riesener and a console table by André-Charles Boulle, as well as Pierre Gouthière’s extraordinary Avignon Clock. Not to be missed in the armoury are a 15th-century armour for man & horse, the armour of Sir Thomas Sackville, and a pair of flint-lock pistols that once belonged to King Louis XIV of France. A visit to the Wallace Collection takes around two hours, unless you want to take a deep dive into its world-renowned arms & armour section, in which case your visit will likely take forever.

Reader comment


To fully appreciate Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s painting Les hasards heureux de l’escarpolette, it’s important to know that knickers are a relatively recent invention, and that in the 18th century women would wear only a shift & stockings under their petticoats.