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On a recent whirlwind trip through London, a brief stop at The Wallace Collection had me momentarily awestruck. Secretly a fan of ornate, dainty treasures (I will squeal over cute teacups any day of the week), I felt as if I had stepped inside the world's fanciest life-size dollhouse.
The national museum __ set inside Hertford House, a historic London townhouse __ features 25 galleries of paintings, furniture and porcelain collected in the 18th and 19th centuries by the first four Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace, the son of the fourth Marquess. In 1897, the collection was bequeathed to the British nation by Lady Wallace, Sir Richard's widow.
Though I prefer modern art and will admittedly waltz right past a Botticelli without a moment's hesitation, the museum's paintings from fifth-century artists such as Titian, Rembrandt and Diego Velazquez had me transfixed. Perhaps it was each room's setting: The elegant, crimson Great Gallery resembled the grand hall of a train station, and I couldn't take my eyes off the flamboyant chandelier in the emerald-green Large Drawing Room. The feminine study dedicated to Queen Marie-Antoinette of France (which features more pieces of her furniture than in any other room in the world) was my childhood fantasy room come to life. The fruit-punch-colored walls and ostentatious gold mirrors and frames sit in wonderful contrast to the delicate but equally elaborate vases, candlesticks and china lined up neatly in glass-fronted cabinets. A narrow corridor off the study showcases the boudoir cabinet and its miniature arts __ miniature paintings, gold boxes and other luxury items from the 17th and 18th centuries (that, yes, I squealed over).
Be sure to stop by the massive European and Oriental Armory collection as well to spy futuristic-looking Gothic equestrian armor with helmets that put Darth Vader's to shame.
The Wallace Collection is open every day of the week, and admission is free.