War and Peace


War and Peace

In this new blog series, our curators, archivists and conservators will be bringing together works of art from across the Collection under one theme. From armour and jewellery, to portraits and porcelain, read about some of the most fascinating and marvellous pieces in the Collection here.

Today we will be looking at the theme of 'War and Peace'. Discover treasures from the Archive that reveal stories of the Wallace Collection during wartime, read about Vernet's dramatic depiction of Napoleon's grave, as well as one of the finest examples of heavy jousting armour in the Collection.

Cristoforo de Predis, Initial ‘A’ with Galeazzo Maria Sforza in prayer, 1477 (?)

The initial ‘A’, perhaps cut from a choir book, shows Galeazzo Maria Sforza, Duke of Milan (1444-76), a famously martial figure, kneeling in prayer to God, presumably asking for victory in the battle taking place in the middle distance. The arms of the dukes of Milan are enclosed in a wreath in the border. The battle depicted probably took place during the campaigns of 1476, during which Galeazzo fought against the armies sent into northern Italy by Charles the Bold of Burgundy.

Below the initial is the artist’s signature, partly rubbed out: Opus Xpstofori de Predis VII die Aprilis 147[-]. Cristoforo, brother of the better-known Ambrogio, signed various manuscripts in the 1470s.

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German, Nuremberg and Augsburg, Composite Armour for the German Joust of Peace, c. 1500-20

A highly specialised piece of equipment, this heavy jousting armour was designed for the type of joust known in the German lands as the Gestech. Lances for this form of joust were fitted with coronels; spearheads with three or four points rather than one, in order to spread the impact and avoid any risk of penetration. Such jousts were held regularly all over Germany throughout much of the sixteenth century.

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Create your own miniature joust with our learning activity:

Activity: Tabletop Tournament

Knife with scabbard with parts made in Iran, Turkey and Russia, 16th century

Far from being a tool of war, this small, highly decorative knife is a testament to the cosmopolitanism of the imperial court in Moscow in its heyday. Although the precise history of the object is shrouded in mystery, what is certain is that the blade is much older than the scabbard and hilt, being made in the court workshops of Iran or the Ottoman Empire sometime in the sixteenth century. The hilt and scabbard, made of Siberian jade and fitted with gold mounts in the Russian style, replaced the original hilt and scabbard sometime in the eighteenth century.

Filing cabinet, writing table and inkstand made by René Dubois, c.1765

Surmounted by Cupid and Psyche and the figures of War and Peace, this set of writing furniture was clearly made for a patron with strong military connections. Veneered with French lacquer and gilt bronze, the filing cabinet is decorated with military trophies on its base, and on either side of the inkstand are a ship’s prow, recalling the displays from conquered ships in the ancient Roman Forum.

The iconography would have been appropriate for the expansionist Empress of Russia, Catherine the Great, who imported the furniture from Paris and reportedly gave it to her son, Grand Duke Paul, who sat at it with his best friend, Prince Alexander Kurakin, to do his school work.

Read more about these pieces here.

Pair of candlesticks probably by Nicolas Henry, after designs by Augustin Barnabé de Mailly, c. 1780

Children playing adult roles were much to the taste of French eighteenth-century artists and patrons. Here, they transform the gravity of warfare into a light-hearted pastime, supporting an upright cannon. The candlesticks were designed as part of a fashionable inkstand made for Catherine the Great commemorating victory in the Russo-Turkish war, which she subsequently gave to her favourite, Count Alexis Orlov, who was credited with the Russian naval victory at Chesma. The model was later copied, and sold by the Parisian luxury goods dealer Julliot, one of the champions of the Neo-classical style.

Garniture of three Sèvres vases in soft-paste porcelain possibly painted by Jean-Louis Morin, 1759

Painted in the reserves, bordered by lavish rococo decoration, we get a glimpse into calm scenes of daily life in a military encampment. These are attributed to Jean-Louis Morin, who worked for over thirty years at Sèvres and became one of the manufactory’s leading figure-painters. Morin was the son of an army surgeon, a connection that may have inspired such life-like depictions.

They were painted during the Seven Years' War, but instead of dramatic battles we are shown soldiers drinking wine at sunset and playing cards on a drum while a female cook adds wood to a fire. This gentle aspect of army life may have seemed more appropriate for vases owned by Louis XV than actual warfare.

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Napoleon's Tomb by Horace Vernet, 1821

After having dominated European politics for years, for better or for worse, Napoleon Bonaparte died on May 5, 1821 on the island of St. Helena. When the painter Horace Vernet learned of this event some two months later, he immediately produced a commemorative painting depicting Napoleon’s grave (placed, for dramatic purposes on a seaside promontory beside the wreckage of a ship inscribed with the names of the Emperor’s most important battles, instead of by the narrow stream where it sat in reality).

Two of his generals, Charles-Tristan Montholon and Henri-Gatien Bertrand, are depicted at the head of an army of cloud-borne mourners to the right. Painted in October 1821, the Wallace Collection’s painting is an autograph version, with minor variants, of Vernet’s original composition.

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Front of Hertford House showing bomb damage

The Wallace Collection started evacuating the artworks before war had even started in August 1939, and the move was completed on the 4th September 1939, the day after war was declared. 28 lorry journeys were made to the historic houses Hall Barn in Buckinghamshire and Balls Park, Hertfordshire where the collection remained for the rest of the war.

Nearly everything was moved except artworks that were too heavy or fragile and these were left behind in the basement of Hertford House, where the ceilings had been reinforced with concrete to become a ‘fortified room’ – just in case the house was bombed. As you can see in the above photograph the Wallace Collection was lucky and only the front gates were broken by a bomb that landed in the front garden in September 1940.

Emergency procedures

Some staff from the Wallace Collection accompanied the artwork to Hall Barn and Balls Park and stayed to monitor them throughout the war, and regularly reported back to the Trustees and Director about their condition. However some staff remained behind to maintain and look after a rather empty Hertford House, and became warders who sat on the roof to keep an eye out for bombs.

These Emergency Procedures were given to these staff so they would know what to do if a bomb hit, and you can see these were heavily used! The house was again bombed by incendiaries in November 1940 and May 1941, however the warder staff were able to put these out very quickly before any further damage could happen to the building.

Russian Artist Aid Exhibition

Although the Wallace Collection was left largely empty during the Second World War, some exhibitions did take place. These included the Arts and Crafts (1941) and Artists Aid Russia (1942) exhibitions. Contemporary artists such as Henry Moore, Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth brought several pieces to display for people to view and then buy to raise money for various good causes. This is the catalogue for the later exhibition signed by Sir Winston Churchill, this was auctioned for Mrs Churchill’s Aid for Russia fund and presented to the Wallace Collection by Sir Alec Martin in 1942.

The collection remained outside of London for the duration of the Second World War, and brought back by lorry to Hertford House in the summer of 1945. The Wallace Collection was then able to reopen to visitors in August 1945, slightly battered in some places but luckily still standing! All of the items mentioned above are part of the Wallace Collection Archive and can be viewed in the Visitor’s Library when we reopen.