What treasures did Lady Wallace choose to adorn her bedroom? Who were the ‘Manchester children’? Did ‘Rembrandt’ live in Hertford House? Discover all this and more in the first of two blogs by archivist Carys Lewis on the secrets of the Wallace Collection
Perhaps the best way to look at the archives is to see them in two halves: first relating to our founders, the first four Marquesses of Hertford and Richard Wallace, who collected the objects and second, the records of the working museum. This first blog will focus on what we know about the founders.
Unfortunately no records relating to the Collection or the founders were included in Lady Wallace’s bequest in 1897. However, over the years the Wallace Collection’s staff have collected material relating to the founders and their collecting habits. The archive of the museum is in the process of all being brought together but what we hold helps paint a picture of key moments in the Wallace Collection’s history.
Some of our most important records about the Collection are a series of inventories which reveal the contents of properties owned by the collectors on their deaths.
In the case of the 4th Marquess, he never lived in Hertford House, much preferring Paris society. Instead, he used his houses in London as a literal warehouse to store the art he purchased. The death inventory shows the Marquess built up a substantial collection, referred to in correspondence by the 4th Marquess as ‘our Manchester children’. However, and bewildering for a modern audience, he never saw some of his acquisitions, including Joshua Reynolds’ Mrs Elizabeth Carnac, which was acquired at a Christies sale in 1861 and we know that the last visit the 4th Marquess made to London was in 1856.
The inventories include details of all contents in Hertford House giving us an exclusive insight into the inhabitants’ tastes. The inventory taken on Sir Richard Wallace’s death in 1890 revealed that Lady Wallace’s bed was ‘a 6ft carved and gilt Parisian bedstead, stuffed head, and footboard covered in blue silk’ costing £200 (over £12,000 in today’s money). We know that Lady Wallace was a fan of Fragonard’s The Swing as it was one of the 15 paintings she chose to adorn her bedroom.
The 1890 inventory shows that Richard Wallace had 8 horses, with names ranging from the more common of Rodney to the clearly art-inspired Rembrandt, and 12 carriages for Wallace and Lady Wallace’s personal use.
If you are wondering where the horses and carriages lived in Hertford House, the plans from the archive show that our European Armouries used to be the stables and coach house. A mezzanine level was in place between the ground and first floors, where the stable boys and coachman’s family slept, the stable boys directly above the stables and the coachman’s family in a flat above the coach house.
Lady Wallace bequeathed the contents of the ground floor and first floor of Hertford House to the nation on her death in 1897. After a government enquiry determined that the Collection should remain in Hertford House, rather than be housed within special galleries at the National Gallery or V&A, the property was bought for the nation from her heir and former secretary, John Murray Scott.
A large amount of building work was required to make the house more suitable to display the Collection, for example, the mezzanine level was removed to create higher ceilings on the west side of the building. Yet by June 1900 all the preparation had been completed, allowing the Collection to open its doors to the public for the first time.
Check back next Wednesday to explore more secrets on the Wallace Collection as a museum in my next blog post.
By Carys Lewis