Underground: Baker Street or Oxford Circus; the Wallace Collection is in a large building on one side of Manchester Square, close to Marylebone High Street.
The Wallace Collection contains an incredible collection of European paintings, sculpture, porcelain, and other objets d'art, as well as an important collection of medieval armour, all in a huge mansion with period furniture. Within this, the small proportion of British art is relatively insignificant. However, a visit to the Wallace Collection is an experience, and while there, it is worth noting the English work, as well as comparing with the excellent collection of French 19th Century paintings.
The most important British paintings are portraits. In Room 22, the great hall upstairs where normally hangs Frans Hals's The Laughing Cavalier, is a big stylish Gainsborough portrait of Mrs Robinson (Perdita), and alongside are smaller portraits of the same sitter by Reynolds and Romney. What a comparison to make. Other work in that room includes Mrs Carnac, dressed in gown, wandering in the forest, and Nelly O'Brian, an expressive portrait, both by Reynolds.
In Room 13, where Fragonard's The Swing hangs, Reynolds has four more pictures, including two overly-sweet little girls. They are kept company by a variety of pictures by Greuze - Room 34 has even more of them. Further paintings by Reynolds, including Mrs Nesbitt with a Dove, are downstairs in Room 5. Also in that room are a picture by John Hoppner, two big enamels by Henry Bone, a young Queen Victoria by Thomas Scully, and the famous Countess of Blessington, leaning engagingly forward, by Thomas Lawrence, along with other works by that artist.
Another important work by Lawrence, Portrait of a Lady, is in Room 12, which contains other British paintings. Most numerous are works by the short-lived R. P. Bonington, including gloomy interiors with figures and much better, brighter outdoor scenes, of which we may mention A Sea Picture, Coast of Picardy, and the largest one, The Plaza of St Marks, Venice. There is a picture by David Roberts, showing the interior of a cathedral, typical of his work but much less spectacular than some. David Wilkie has a small and unfortunately named Scottish Toilet, and Landseer has a Highland Scene.
Further work by Landseer is scattered around the building, including various canine pictures. The biggest is also one of the most missable - a huge canvas by the side of the main staircase in the entrance hall - The Arab Tent, showing mare and foal, sleeping dogs and monkeys. Also there is a big landscape by William Hilton with winsome girls bathing - Venus in Search of Cupid.
As well as the main staircase, there are two minor staircases to the second floor, both containing British paintings. The stair to Room 21 contains a work each by Bonington and David Roberts, mixed in with 19th Century French work, and the stair to Room 23 has three pictures by Rosa Bonheur, all small, showing a dog, a roe deer, and a waggon and horses. Finally, in the Shop hangs a large picture by Clarkson Stanfield, and a portrait by James Sant of Miss Julia Sant.
Now to the French pictures. Although the interest here is in the 19th Century work, it is noted in passing that the collection is strong in the 18th Century, with acres of pink flesh by Boucher. Room 12 has works by Delaroche and Delacroix. Room 11, which is one of the armour galleries, has an interesting collection of French 19th Century Orientalist works, which bear comparison with English Orientalist paintings. The most polished works are by Horace Vernet, with the well-known Lion Hunt and The Arab Tale Teller. There are also several works by Decamps, Marilhat, Gerome, and Muller's An Odalesque.
The bulk of the 19th Century French pictures are upstairs, in Room 23. There may be found biblical scenes by Decamps, Delaroche paintings including a Virgin and Child, nudes by Prud'hon, pictures of Brigands by L. L. Robert, and small scenes by Meissonier. There is a variety of work by Rousseau and Roqueplan. Further good work by Horace Vernet includes a Joseph's Coat, and a Judah and Tamar which seems to typify Orientalist work - fierce Arab man, demure girl with one breast and nice leg exposed, camel to complete the composition. More important is work by Ary Scheffer, including the Symbolist Margaret at the Well and the oft-reproduced Francesca da Rimini. Charles Landelle is always interesting, and noteworthy here is his An Armenian Woman, with an excellent 19th Century type as the model.
There is one small but most worthy sculpture - A Circassian Slave in the Market Place at Constantinople. It is by Raffaelle Monti, and is a small version of a sculpture shown at the Great Exhibition of 1851, and featured in the Catalogue.
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Victorian art in London // Victorian art in Britain