London.- Having completed the refurbishment of the State Rooms, bringing together in individual settings the eighteenth-century French paintings and decorative arts for which the museum is rightly famous and celebrated, the Wallace Collection has now embarked upon the transformation of the top-lit galleries, which were purpose-built by Sir Richard Wallace as additions to Hertford House to display the expanding collection as it was brought back to Britain. The new design creates a fresh architectural language for the display of the most important collection of Dutch art in Britain after the National Gallery, and one of Europe’s finest. The refurbished gallery is expected to open in late March this year.
Architects, designers, curators and conservators have combined to deliver a plan which once more allows natural light to enter the galleries, and offers clear views of the sky. The original height of the galleries has been recreated and the new roof lights will sit more than two metres higher than the previous ceiling, which was dramatically lowered in the 1970s to accommodate air conditioning duct work. This solution simultaneously creates the best possible modern conditions for the paintings, whilst referring back to the history of Hertford House and other period hangs. In addition to Sir Richard Wallace’s own display, the vision for the new Dutch Galleries has been influenced by the hangs of two historic figures: the Prince Regent, the future George IV at Carlton House and Étienne-François, Duc de Choiseul at his Parisian townhouse. The Duc de Choiseul was French Foreign Minister during the Seven Years’ War under Louis XV and a favourite of Madame de Pompadour, whose tastes are evident throughout the Wallace Collection. Contemporary illustrations show their Dutch collections displayed on a deep, rich blue silk.
The Wallace Collection galleries take inspiration from this vibrant, arresting setting, offering the visitor a new perspective othe display of Dutch Old Masters. It will re-introduce one of the favourite colours for the display of paintings in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries into the museum world of the twenty first century. Expanding on this connection, the Wallace Collection houses five paintings previously owned by the Duc de Choiseul: Votive offering to Cupid by Jean-Baptiste Greuze (1767), The Good Samaritan by Rembrandt (1630), A Street Scene in Cologne by Jan van der Heyden (c. 1684), Landscape with a Coach by Govaert Flinck (probably 1637) and A Stream in Hilly Country by Philips Wouwermans (late 1650s). Fittingly, the latter four will be hung together once more in the new galleries. An extensive programme of restoration and cleaning of picture frames will add to the visual quality of the three new galleries. This is the first time frames have been conserved simultaneously with gallery refurbishments and the frames date back to the Hertford-Wallace period, meaning the pictures and frames will be seen together as they were by their collectors. Paintings will be arranged in groups to invite comparisons and each gallery will have a clearly defined, individual theme. East Gallery I will present works by Rembrandt and his workshop and early contemporaries; the following galleries will evolve around genre and landscape painting of the Dutch Golden Age and work by Dutch artists in Italy. This sequence will help to link the galleries with the wider narrative of Old Master painting on display in Hertford House. The Rembrandt Room will connect to the East Drawing Room, devoted to Flemish paintings focussed around Rubens and Van Dyck, reflecting the model character of Flemish art for Dutch painters and for Rembrandt in particular. The gallery on Dutch artists in Italy will link the Dutch collection to the international seventeenth-century horizon so brilliantly shown in the Great Gallery beyond. The Great Gallery itself presents the next phase of the refurbishment of the Collection. Beginning in mid-October 2012 and set for completion mid to late 2014, it will once more bring the eminent collection of Old Masters to the fore.
The museum’s collection numbers nearly 5,500 objects and is best known for its quality and breadth of eighteenth-century French paintings, Sèvres porcelain and French furniture. The Wallace Collection also displays many other treasures, such as two paintings by Titian, four Rembrandts, three Rubenses, four Van Dycks, twenty-two Canalettos, nineteen Bouchers, masterpieces by de Hooch, nine Teniers, Frans Hals, nine Murillos, two Velázquez and paintings by Domenichino, Cima, Daddi, Reni, Rosa, Thomas Gainsborough, Joshua Reynolds, Antoine Watteau, Nicholas Lancret, Jan Steen, Aelbert Cuyp and nine Guardis. The museum also holds a fine collection of arms and armour, featuring both European and Oriental objects, as well as displays of gold boxes, miniatures, sculpture and medieval and Renaissance works of art such as maiolica, glass, bronzes and Limoges enamels. Visit the collection’s website at … http://www.wallacecollection.org