Reopening of the Great Gallery; bringing back the natural light
The Great Gallery of the Wallace collection with one of the finest collections of Old Master paintings in the world, was reopened on 19 September after a two year and £5 m refurbishment with a new hang and reconfigured ceiling that will see the gallery filled with natural light. Described as “the greatest picture gallery in Europe” by art historian Kenneth Clark, the Great Gallery is a collection from which we all know at least one picture. The display features some of art history’s most familiar sights, including Hals’ The Laughing Cavalier, Rubens’ The Rainbow Landscape, Poussin’s A Dance to the Music of Time and Velázquez’ The Lady with a Fan.
Key to the extensive refurbishment is the reconfiguration of the gallery’s ceiling, which will now feature a large central lay light, replacing the most recent 1970s design and reflecting the ceiling in the time of Sir Richard Wallace. This allows the space to be filled with daylight, which will be carefully controlled to ensure a safe environment for the works of art and provide the best modern viewing conditions, assisted by an advanced new lighting scheme. Other changes are all internal decorations and gilding refreshed, the replacement of the old wall fabric with a vibrant, crimson silk damask and the installation of decorative wainscot panelling.
The Great Gallery was built by Sir Richard Wallace between 1872-5 as part of his major extension of Hertford House to accommodate his collection’s move from Paris to London. As was typical for great private residences, the Gallery was positioned behind the private living quarters in order to create a magnificent impact at the culmination of any visit. Constructed over what had originally been a mews behind the house, the vast space would have been hugely impressive to the small groups of guests who were privileged enough to be shown the collection.
The Great Gallery houses also one of the world’s most important collections of Dutch and Flemish still lives by Weenix and Hondecoeter and, fittingly, two pairs of their majestic compositions of trophies of the hunt have been cleaned. The new Great Gallery display now includes some major pieces that were previously positioned elsewhere in the Collection.
The refurbishment has also provided an opportunity to reconsider the hang and showcase the cultural dialogue that was occurring between the major centres of seventeenth-century artistic creativity – Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and France. Exhibiting artists from these great national schools side-by-side makes the Great Gallery hang unique for an art gallery, reveals the museum’s origins as a private collection, and offers the viewer a rewarding and immersive experience.
The curator of the Old Masters paintings Dr. Lucy Davis will give a tour through the new gallery that will offer special insights into how the great masters of this remarkable collection were influenced. We hope that you will join us in this unique opportunity.
Guided tour by the Old Masters Curator took place on a Wednesday at 11:00 am