Creating art and going shopping are different. Both difficult things in their own way. But looking at the Wallace Collection the other day, I thought for the first time about how all these beautiful things had once been sold – to a family who could afford them. Now they are gathered together to be looked at by those of us who can’t.
The Wallace Collection, housed in Hertford House, Westminster, was mainly amassed by Richard Seymour-Conway, Fourth Marquess of Hertford, and then bequeathed to the British nation by the widow of his illegitimate son, Sir Richard Wallace, in 1900.
As well as such world-famous delights such as The Artist’s Son Titus by Rembrandt, The Bacino from the Gíudecca in Venice by Canaletto, Perseus and Andromeda by Titian and The Lady with a Fan by Velazquez, the collection has a wonderful furniture gallery. With more than 500 pieces, it’s best known for its 18th-century French pieces resplendent in rococo bronze-gilt glory. A highlight is the work of cabinet-maker André-Charles Boulle. It was remarkable to think that these golden, shiny things had once simply been for sale.
It’s pointless to envy the owners of these golden delights, especially as we cannot buy them now even if we had the money. History is not so easily acquired. But institutions like these are vital as they let anyone and everyone come into close contact with these beautiful things.
Experiencing these objects is a wonderful thing. And while some visitors might be inspired to shop for things after seeing the Wallace Collection, there will be many others who will want to try to make them instead. Art inspires art. And to my mind, the more gilt the better.
What do you think? Have your say below
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