I have always been aware of the Wallace. Looking at reproductions of master paintings by Rembrandt, Velaquez, Reynolds, Gainsborough, Titan, Van Dyke or Rubens – to name but a few – I was intrigued that they were credited as being part of the Wallace Collection. When I first came across it, I hadn’t appreciated that it also contained renowned collections of eighteenth century French decorative arts, the finest collection of princely arms and armour in Britain and many superb medieval and Renaissance objects including glass, maiolica and sculpture. How had this inherently personal and extraordinary collection come into being? It was only later that I came to understand that it was the product of five generations of collecting by the Hertford family.
When I became Head of LCF, I met the then Director of the Wallace – Dame Rosalind Savill. Anybody who has ever met her will have been inspired by her wit, scholarship and expertise. I was immediately caught up in her amazing energy. Her vision and commitment to the Wallace saw it transform not just by the physical changes that she devised- the glass roof over the courtyard, the wonderful French silk wallpapers that now adorn the walls of the refurbished galleries – but particularly through how the atmosphere and personality of the Wallace has been allowed to shine through. She has made possible close proximity and examination of the furniture, armour, ceramics, paintings and other extraordinary objects.
I was therefore delighted, and honoured, to be appointed a Trustee to the Collection and Chair of their Audit committee. Having extra insight into the working of the Collection as well as helping to support its development and future is not only an honour and but a responsibility. The terms of the Collection mean that objects can never be lent, that it must remain intact and other objects can’t be integrated into it.
For me, the Wallace is an intimate Collection. No matter how many people might be in a gallery with you, somehow I have a direct connection to the object or painting I’m looking at. Every time I visit something else is revealed whether I notice a new detail, the treasure of the month has highlighted something, a lecture by a visiting scholar has shed new light on an artist or craftsman or the whole experience of being an !8th Century collector. Somehow the Wallace celebrates everything that is optimistic and inspirational about being a human being. It shows us that we have an infinite capacity to create beautiful magical artefacts- even if they are sometimes in the shape of a sinister dagger.