Nestled in a quiet square in the quaint neighborhood of Marylebone, The Wallace Collection in Hertford House looks like a life-size dollhouse and is home to some of the most precious 18th century French paintings, porcelain and furniture. It also has a world class armoury with heavily decorated pistols, daggers and crossbows that evoke visitors' imaginations of the ancient battlefields.
Everything on display in this comparatively small national museum is part of the Hertford family collection, assembled in the 18th and 19th centuries by the first four Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace, the illegitimate son of the 4th Marquess. The collection was bequeathed to the nation by Sir Richard's widow in 1897.
The atmosphere inside this historic townhouse is intimate and sumptuous. Many walls are covered with rich fabrics, the perfect backdrop to compliment Old Masters paintings by the likes of Hals, Rembrandt, Rubens and Titian.
When visitors linger in front of every painting and artifact in the house and hesitate to pull their eyes away, that is an indication of the unsurpassed quality of treasures in the Wallace Collection.
The house feels French and oozes an approachable, aristocratic charm. The Wallace Restaurant in the glazed courtyard serves delicious French cuisine and afternoon tea, and judging from the lunch crowd this place is still a hidden gem that the locals would like to keep to themselves.
It's never easy to part with the things you love, let alone a collection of over 5,000 paintings and artifacts that have been passed down through generations. But to philanthropist and art collector Sir Richard, art is meant to be appreciated by everyone, and thanks to his belief Londoners now have access to one of most breathtaking art collections in the world.
The Wallace Collection is not the only kindness Sir Richard had bestowed upon the art world. He was also the brain and sponsor behind the public drinking fountains - aptly named the Wallace fountains - in Paris, which provided free clean water to all after the siege of Paris destroyed several aqueducts and led to a surge in water price. The Wallace fountains were often the only source of free water for the homeless, and today they are recognized as one of the symbols of Paris.