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Highlights from the Wallace Collection

Spend five minutes wanding the Wallace Collection in London and the retina at the back of your eyes will inevitably start to ache; overwhelmed by elaborate detail, splendor, golden refinery and of course, sheer excess.

The Wallace is home to some exceptional paintings, works of art, as well as the ephemera that inevitably comes from imperial colonization and conquest. The Swing, The Laughing Cavalier, Rembrandts, Reynolds, and Rubens to name a few. We have chosen a few which to our reckoning stand out as of particular interest and that are worthy of seeing. Currently a Joshua Reynolds exhibition on, Experiments in Paint, until 07 June 2015. However, all of our highlights are from the permanent collection and can be viewed all year round. Thankfully the Wallace is completely free to visitors.

Diego Velazquez The Lady with a Fan 1630-50 A painting by Velazquez will inevitably stand out in any exhibition. When it is one of his portraits it cannot be overlooked. The subtlety of expression and gaze is the mastery of a Velazquez portrait. The majority of portraiture of this time is tame and porcelain. Blank, early versions of photoshop designed to flatter patrons and impress aristocracy. The Lady with a Fan manages, in a single gaze and composition of white and black, to convey an indescribable feeling of emotional difficulty. The anonymous 'lady' has not been convincingly identified and so, for at least the time being anyway, she remains as lost and distant as her expression suggests she is.

Titian Perseus and Andromeda 1554-56 Perhaps the best Titian you can see in Britain outside of the National Gallery. Perseus and Andromeda is Titian’s poetic telling of one of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Andromeda’s naked body, which almost fills half of the painting, is shown chained to a rock. She is being sacrificed in order to appease a sea monster, sent by Neptune as punishment for her mother’s boast of beauty. Perseus is Andromeda’s visual opposite and plunges into the composition to save her, although the viewer is left unsure whether he is about to fall into the gaping mouth of the beast.

Jean Baptiste Oudry The Dead Roe and The Dead Wolf. 1721 This diptych of paintings are full of the signs of wealth and the power of man over nature. All the animals in it are shown as either food for man or, as in the case of the dogs, in service of man. The roe and the wolf have a hierarchy of predator and prey but both are presented here, next to hunting equipment, as under the authority of man.

These are not heart warming pictures but often the best art shows us not what we are but how we perceive ourselves. It is an arrogant untruthful picture but certainly of interest nonetheless.

Miniature Tabernacle Early 16th Century. This exquisitely detailed carving is a miniature evocation of the towering altarpieces often found in the largest buildings of the time; cathedrals. The skill of the detail achieved by the now unknown artisan is almost beyond comprehension.

Robert-Guillaume Dardel Rene Descartes casting aside the clouds of ignorance 1781 This miniature model of that most archetypal of logical thinkers is shown fighting against his invisible mental enemy; ignorance. Here ignorance is represented by an engulfing could of smoke. The sculpture reminds us of the constant struggle between fact and superstition, between logic and fear. Similar to Goya’s Sleep of Reason it also hints at the consequences of being consumed irrationality.


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