In early 2012 the Wallace Collection
will unveil the newly-refurbished Dutch galleries in the East wing galleries of Hertford House, the first stage of refurbishment of the more traditional, top-lit galleries to add to the sumptuous twelve domestic rooms housing the eighteenth century French collections. Along with grand plans for the Great Gallery (to be completed in 2014), they will mark the completion of the gallery refurbishment programme and creation of the glazed courtyard and additional spaces, achieved by Dame Rosalind Savill during her nineteen years as Director. These changes have dramatically enhanced the visitor experience and raised the public profile of the Collection.
Over the last sixteen years extensive refurbishment has been completed on the twelve state rooms where the superlative collection of eighteenth-century French paintings, furniture, porcelain and metalwork are displayed. Much effort has been taken to recreate the sense of a great London town house, by retaining as much daylight and views of Manchester Square as possible, and by giving each room a special intimacy by hanging the walls with French silks and improving the lighting. The result is sumptuous and beautiful, in contrast to the dull and uniform more museum-like effect created by previous refurbishments. These rooms give the visitor the most amazing sense of ownership and, as visitor surveys show, foster an emotional connection with this great Collection.
The next stage is to bring the East wing galleries on the first floor up to the same standards as the new rooms. These house magnificent Old Master paintings and were largely created by Sir Richard Wallace for his Collection in the 1870s. The aim is to recreate the height and top-lighting that he introduced for these galleries, such that once again they become spectacular galleries while meeting all modern conservations standards. When the air conditioning was installed in the 1970s, the ceiling level was dropped very considerably in these spaces, in order to accommodate the duct work, and also the plant caused a serious loss of natural daylight, only allowing some through side roof-lights. This is a far cry from the historic arrangement of galleries with high ceilings and large lay lights through which the daylight flooded.
The proposed new roof-lights, extensively researched by architects, designers and conservators, are designed to permit natural light to enter the galleries while also allowing a clear view of the sky. Not only is this ideal for the paintings, it is also vital that visitors do not feel that they leave elegant rooms and then suddenly enter artificially-lit tunnels of galleries at the sides. These plans aim to avoid any claustrophobic museum effect and complement the domestic, nineteenth-century feel of the other areas where the Collection is displayed.
The paintings will be arranged in groups to invite comparisons. The three galleries will have clearly defined, individual themes. East Gallery I will present works by Rembrandt and his workshop and early contemporaries, East Gallery II evolves around genre and landscape painting of the Dutch Golden Age, East Gallery III unites work by Dutch artists in Italy. This sequence will help to link the galleries with the wider narrative of Old Master painting on display in Hertford House. The Rembrandt Room will follow the East Drawing Room, devoted to Flemish paintings focussed around Rubens, reflecting the model character of Flemish art for Dutch painters and for Rembrandt in particular. The gallery on Dutch artists in Italy will link the Dutch collection to the international seventeenth-century horizon so brilliantly shown in the Great Gallery beyond.
Thanks to the changes of the past nineteen years under the Directorship of Dame Rosalind Savill, the Collection has been able to achieve more for the visitor, of all ages and interests, than it could possibly have dreamed. This has resulted in nearly three million visitors enjoying this magnificent Collection over the last ten years, representing a 69% increase on visitors from the preceding ten years, attracted in no small part by the enhanced facilities provided by the Centenary Project. The creation of the Exhibition Galleries has allowed the Collection to stage exhibitions for the first time. Loans have given visitors the chance to explore pieces from world-class institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum, the Musée du Louvre and the Vatican Museums, as well as from seminal private collections, and uniquely, the first exhibition in a national museum curated by children. The new spaces have also enabled the development of an extensive programme of public events and scholarly activities and the opportunity for the Collection to generate a large percentage of its income from the restaurant by day and from corporate and private events in the evening, totalling £7 million to date; funds which then are re-deployed to subsidise the aforementioned public and scholarly activities.