Wallace Collection review
The Wallace Collection came as a total surprise to me because I didn't realise how beautiful it was. The first two rooms I went in reminded me of Buckingham Palace. The walls are all velvet reds and warm golds and full of huge oil portraits ten feet across. The antique furniture is full of black statues and gilded porcelain and golden trophy plates. They've got urns and clocks and heavy dangling chandeliers -- the marble fireplace looks like it's come straight from the Palace of Versailles.
Honest to God... the rooms wouldn't look out of place at Buckingham Palace — that is how beautiful they are.
The next set of rooms were full of religious treasures. If you've ever been to see the stained glass windows and church exhibits at the V&A then this will be right up your street. The darkened cabinets have got caskets and candlesticks and delicate little reliquaries with the bones of saints inside (chicken bones, more like). There are paintings of angels, glass goblets and altar pieces, and illuminated pages from biblical texts. It's all very beautiful and it's just a shame that I don't believe in God. (I am willing to suspend my disbelief for fifteen minutes when I see a room like this though.)
After that comes a series of rooms stacked full of guns and rifles and suits of armour. It's like something out of King Arthur's day -- the kind of thing that a chivalrous knight might wear on the Crusades. They've got fantastically ornate helmets and swords and shields and gauntlets, huge maces with deadly metal spikes, cutlasses and crossbows, pistols and scimitars. And they are not clever replicas either, it's all genuine stuff from the 1500s. You could start up your own medieval army with the weapons in here. They've even got two full-size fighting horses with two huge sword-wielding knights on top. They are rising up their sword hands ready to slice the top of head in two. They look like medieval tanks with a turret on top.
Upstairs is more like a traditional gallery, with beautiful rooms full of oil paintings. I'm a bit of a dunce when it comes to art (my favourite artist is Tony Hart), but even I recognised names like Gainsborough, Titian, Reynolds, Rembrandt and Rubens. They've got an entire room full of Canalettos as well. (I think he's probably my favourite artist actually -- sorry Tony Hart.) I like his ones of London that I saw in the Tate, but these ones all seem to be of Venice.
The famous picture that everyone comes to see is The Laughing Cavalier by Frans Hals. I am standing in front of it right now, and yes, he is definitely looking smug about something; but I wouldn't say he was laughing. Have you ever seen the picture? He's not laughing at all! Maybe he's having a laugh on us. I can't work out what he's so happy about... he's imprisoned inside a little one-foot square cell of wooden walls and is situated directly across from a painting of an ugly old nun and a depressing scene of anguished adults. The picture next door is of another ugly bird holding up a dead rabbit. If I had to stare at them all day then it would do my head in. He's got a very pretty lady above him though... but he can't see that one. So what has he got to smile about? He must be drunk — that is the only explanation.
Just when you think it can't get any better you walk into a suite of rooms where Wallace had his study and drawing room. These are definitely on a par with a royal palace — there is no question about it. Where did this guy get all his money from? You can't call this place an art gallery, or a museum, or a royal home — it is all three things rolled into one.
And do you know what the most amazing thing about this gallery is? It's free!
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