Time Required: 1-3 hours
Getting there: walk from Bond Street Station, Baker Street Station, or Oxford Circus
Our first visit to London could be classified as what we like to call “-whelming.” It was four days long, and it was largely unplanned in terms of site-seeing. We had certainly talked about what we wanted to see and do, but hadn’t officially planned any of it. That’s why seeing the Wallace Collection, a hidden gem not far from the most traveled spots in the city, was so perfect for this visit. It was twice described as “manageable” by museum staff I chatted with, both of whom were highly enthusiastic about the wonders that surrounded them.
The Wallace Collection is a free art museum nestled away behind Manchester Square in Westminster. It’s a beautiful piece of artwork in and of itself, not just because of the architecture, but because of the pronounced and curated mood of each room. Each room is lined with French silk wallpaper and matching drapes in a color specifically chosen to enhance the pieces on exhibition in the room.
In addition to having a truly beautiful setup, the Wallace Collection boasts the largest collection of armor in Europe. Those two reasons might be enough even to entertain even those who are less than enthusiastic about paintings. That brings me to the first item on our scavenger hunt list. These three items, in addition to being reasons to go to the Wallace Collection, sum up the experience for the wanderers.
1. A chain mail jacket (that you can TRY ON!)
Let me tell you, chain mail is heavy and uncomfortable. The look is not really runway-worthy (I tried), but it’s fun to try and interesting to contemplate what knights must have thought of it. In addition to trying on a chain mail jacket, you can try on a chain mail head piece, a breastplate, and a helmet. Look for these pieces in the room that would probably be the Wallace Collection dungeon… if it had a dungeon… which it doesn’t.
2. A veiled lady statuette
This piece is done by the same sculptor who created the Veiled Vestal Virgin, an incredible sculpture that somehow makes marble look see-though. Rafaelle Monti was a 19th Century sculptor known for making veiled figures, and this tiny lady is a force to be reckoned with. Look for the eggplant-purple silk and she’s not far away.
3. Political dogs painting
Any dog lover will be attracted to this painting, and may even chuckle or murmur, “aww” when you see the pups’ droopy faces. However, a closer look gives the dogs’ expressions a deeper meaning, and may even break your heart a little. This painting is facing you as soon as you enter the Wallace Collection, but it still might take a little bit of searching.
As with all art museums, go to the Wallace Collection only if you are prepared to contemplate. The beautiful displays are there to impress, of course, but one also can feel that the careful arrangement is made out of the utmost respect not only for the art, but the human suffering and joy it represents.
The Wallace Collection
London W1U 3BN
7 days a week, 10am-5pm