12 January 2013

Revisiting the Wallace Collection

It took me more years than was sensible to visit the Wallace Collection for the first time but only six months to go back.

The opportunity this time came with a theatre date in the evening which left an afternoon with a gallery visiting gap in it, that's two hours.

The main gallery at the back on the first floor was shut for renovations but that still left more than enough to do. My plan, if it warrants such a grand title, was to judge each gallery quickly on entry and either scamper through it quickly or, if impressed, linger over each painting. The first to impress was the imaginatively named West Gallery I.

This is where you find an outstanding collection of Venetian views by Antonio Canaletto and Francesco Guardi.



Canaletto I knew a little but Guardi less so. They painted the same scenes in different ways. A close look at Guardi shows areas of colour broken by a few sharp lines of detail. I like the way that it brings sharpness to the foreground and blurs the background.



Canaletto is the artist most associated with Venice and it is easy to see why. The attention to detail is amazing, look at the windows of the houses, and that makes for a very rich picture that sucks you in to it as you try to make sure that none of that detail goes unnoticed.

Even with the Great Gallery closed there are still fifteen galleries to explore on the first floor alone and each has its own mood and colour scheme to match.

The Oval Drawing Room is "an intimate setting for the rococo paintings of Boucher and Fragonard". This is one of the rooms that I intended to pass through briskly until I saw Jean-Honoré Fragonard's The Swing and that made me stop and look at it.

The splash of vibrant pink in the centre of the picture almost hides the composition at first and it is only with careful looking that the trees and clouds get noticed. It takes a little while more to discover the man lying on the ground.

Walking further round the first floor I came to the East Galleries home to some Dutch Masters. This is a school of art that does little for me, despite a deep immersion in Amsterdam last year. Despite this, I still found a few paintings worth spending some time with. These were mostly views of towns or canals that reminded me just how pretty Amsterdam is.



One of these was Canal Scene by Moonlight by Aert van der Neer, dating from around 1650. The subject matter is interesting with the fishermen in the foreground, the town in the background and the canal linking the two.

An otherwise flat picture is lifted by the bright moon. It is the contrast between this and the rest of the picture that I like so much, just like the pink dress in the swing.

Heading down one of the servants' stairs to the ground floor took me to the decorative arts in the Smoking Room.

The room is poorly lit due to the age of many of the things in it but even in the dark this dish radiates fresh colour. This is made all the more remarkable when you learn that it was made almost five hundred years ago in 1525.

It is discoveries like that which make galleries like the Wallace Collection great places to explore. And because there is just some much there you know that next time you go that you will discover something new that you missed before.

The final picture (and it was an extremely hard job selecting just seven) comes not from one of the galleries but from the house itself.

This is part of the main staircase that leads up from just inside the entrance.

Elsewhere there are fabrics, snuff boxes, a canon, statues, armour and miniatures. There is an awful lot of interesting and pretty stuff carefully packed in to the twenty five rooms.

The only problem with the Wallace Collection is its location, which makes it hard to pop in to on a whim. It lacks the underground station on the doorstep that the V&A has and the walk from Oxford Circus is best done with a map. There is an easy way along Oxford Street but nobody in their right mind would choose to walk that route.

Remoteness may be a harsh criticism of the gallery as it also adds to its mystery and makes each visit something special, which it should be.

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