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London: The Wallace Collection is all so pretty, even the swords

September 05, 2012|By John Lampl
  • Rapier of the future Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II, part of the "Noble Art of the Sword" exhibit that continues through Sept. 16.
Rapier of the future Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II, part of the "Noble… (Wallace Collection )

If you’re taking a breather from London’s current big event, the Paralympics, which ends Sunday, here’s a little oasis in the heart of the West End: the Wallace Collection, assembled in the 18th and 19th centuries by five generations of one remarkable family.

Its 5,470 objects are arranged in 25 galleries within the Hertford House, a lavish but not intimidating home. Unlike its sister national museums, the Wallace has a charm born of intimacy. In a notation in a visitors book in 1878, Benjamin Disraeli called it “this palace of genius, fancy and taste,” which captures its magic.

 As you step back in to a more leisured, gentler age, you can see an extraordinary array of 18th century art — furniture, porcelain and gold snuffboxes as well as paintings by Watteau, Boucher and Fronard. You’ll find some of the greatest names in European art, as well -- Titian, Canaletto, Rembrandt, Rubens, Velázquez and Gainsborough -- and superb medieval and Renaissance objects, including Limoges enamels, majolica, glass and bronzes.

If all the beauty becomes too much, you can veer off into the Noble Art of the Sword, an exhibit on the artistic and cultural importance of the sword, as a symbol of power and prestige, as a flamboyant fashion statement, and as an icon of the Age of Discovery. The exhibit continues until Sept. 16.

The museum is free and open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. every day except Dec. 24-26. Info: The Wallace Collection, Manchester Square, Greater London W1U 3BN.

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