I first heard about the Wallace Collection, an intimate museum in the former home of Sir Richard Wallace, located in a quiet square just behind Selfridges, from a friend. I actually found by chance months later when taking a lunchtime short cut to get to the nearby communications agency where I was working. It was an assignment that I was not enjoying, full of office politics and reorg tension.
My salvation, the thing that kept me going during those few weeks, was the prospect of escaping to the Wallace and joining the lunchtime guided visits led by the marvelous curators and gallery assistants. Topics were varied and designed to highlight the museum's world-class collections. Although initially some had more appeal than others, I soon found that each guide's enthusiasm and knowledge gave me an insight into subjects that I wouldn't have otherwise explored. They all had an engaging manner and provided social history and context for the items on display.
I learned about 18th-century soft paste Sèvres porcelain and the art of the dining table. How Madame de Pompadour conducted her toilette in the morning. The etiquette of taking snuff in a group. The symbolism of 17th-century Dutch and Flemish paintings. The finer aspects of marquetry in 18th-century Boulle furniture. The seemingly dry subject of European arms and armories and the protocol of being a gentleman. It was all fascinating.
Initially, the Wallace Collection's sumptuous treasures provided a joyful escape from an unhappy work environment, but my visits then became a privileged opportunity to learn from experts a new appreciation for the decorative arts. As stipulated in the will of Lady Wallace, nothing can be removed or added to the original family collection. My favorite pieces are the Sèvres porcelain. I like to imagine the pieces in use in grand times and the rituals involved. Wouldn't it be marvelous, just for once, to experience a hot chocolate served in one of those delicate cups?
The communications agency has long since foundered, but I remain a frequent visitor to the Wallace. Even a ten-minute stop is uplifting and enriching, peaceful and calming. And it never feels crowded. With so much beauty to absorb around you, you automatically push your worries aside. I never tire of it.
The Wallace Collection
London W1U 3BN