On June 22 2010 the Wallace Collection celebrated its 110th anniversary as a national museum open to the public. It has long been considered the greatest private art collection to be bequeathed to any nation ever, and its contents of internationally-important fine and decorative arts, especially from eighteenth-century France, is hard to rival. The 22 June also marked the 10th anniversary of the Centenary Project, offering the visitor a completely new dimension to the Collection, with over a third more public space and vital museum facilities, while enabling the integrity of the galleries and their special intimate and domestic atmosphere to remain intact. By providing in the old basement five new galleries for exhibitions, conservation and the reserve collections, together with a studio, lecture theatre, visitors’ library and meeting room for education, capped by the stunning glazed central courtyard at the heart of Hertford House as a restaurant, the Wallace Collection was ready to meet the 21st century head on. The Collection announces how it has been able to achieve more for the visitor, of all ages and interests, than it could possibly have dreamed of in 2000 (not least, when anticipated visitor numbers of 350,000 a year were not projected until 2025, a figure already reached by 2008).
The Centenary Project was made possible with the help of a grant of £7.243 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund, together with over £3million of private donations. This has resulted in nearly three million visitors enjoying this magnificent Collection over the last ten years, representing a 69% increase on visitors from the preceding ten years, attracted in no small part by the enhanced facilities provided by the Centenary Project. The creation of the Exhibition Galleries has allowed the Collection to stage exhibitions for the first time. Thirty-nine have been held in the last ten years, attracting over 650,000 visitors. The topics have been as diverse as the Collection itself, but all have had some connection to the works of art in the Wallace Collection, including paintings, drawings, decorative arts, and even, uniquely, the first exhibition in a national museum ever curated by children. Loans have given visitors the chance to explore pieces from world-class institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum, the Musée du Louvre and the Vatican Museums, as well as from seminal private collections.
Other public spaces have allowed the development of an extensive programme of public events. Adults can sample activities ranging from practical art classes, conservation displays, study days, and community activities, benefiting more vulnerable groups, including the first programme for deaf visitors. The new Visitors’ Library has delivered a fascinating resource for thousands of members of the public and allowed the Collection, alongside partners, to run three postgraduate courses, furthering scholarship. These spaces have also opened up accessibility for children and families, offering armour handling and interactive activities in the Studio. This is fitting as the Collection itself was the result of one family’s passion and retains a unique family atmosphere.
The Centenary Project has also provided the opportunity for the Collection to generate a large percentage of its income from the restaurant by day and from corporate and private events in the evenings, totalling nearly £7 million to date. This in turn has funded our public, community and educational programmes. All of these activities have enabled the Collection to be more welcoming, creating reasons to visit more regularly (especially important for a museum which, by the terms of Lady Wallace’s bequest, cannot acquire or lend.)
Alongside the successes of the Centenary Project are the glorious refurbishments of the Collection’s twelve rooms containing the fine and decorative arts of eighteenth-century France. The last of these, the Boudoir Cabinet, for gold boxes and miniatures, also opened on 22 June. This is a magical and glowing space where these exquisite works of art can be enjoyed in a new and vibrant setting. While the Centenary Project has given the public all the facilities to enhance their visit to the Wallace Collection, it has also insured that the real essence of the Wallace Collection, the superlative works of art, are able to shine resplendent in a domestic setting similar to how they were originally intended. These rooms give the visitor the most amazing sense of ownership and, as visitor surveys show, foster an evocative and emotional connection with this great Collection.
The last ten years have seen public awareness of the Wallace Collection increase on a mammoth scale and visitor perceptions are at an all-time high, consistently beating much larger organisations in popularity polls (as shown by Trip Advisor). The Collection is immensely grateful to all those who through their generous philanthropy have made this possible and now looks to the next ten years to build on these successes.