The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
The 4th Marquess of Hertford, circa 1860, Photograph by Etienne Carjat
The 4th Marquess of Hertford, circa 1860, Photograph by Etienne Carjat
The 4th Marquess of Hertford

Richard Seymour-Conway (1800-70), son of the 3rd Marquess, was born in London and brought up in Paris by his mother.

He was briefly an M.P. and a cavalry officer, but by 1829, when he bought a large apartment at 2 rue Laffitte, he had determined to forgo any public duties and to settle in Paris.

In 1835 he also bought the château of Bagatelle in the Bois de Boulogne. The 4th Marquess never married. Witty and intelligent as well as one of the richest men in Europe, he sometimes ventured into Parisian society and became friendly with Napoleon III. But there was a neurotic side to his personality and he preferred a reclusive life.

The last thirty years of his life were devoted to collecting works of art. He brought Dutch paintings (including Rembrandt’s Titus and Hals’s The Laughing Cavalier), many superb Old Masters (including masterpieces by Poussin, Van Dyck, Velázquez and Rubens) and most of the nineteenth-century paintings now in the Wallace Collection.

Like his father, he was attracted by the arts of eighteenth-century France, but he acquired a wider range of objects and on a far larger scale. He bought pictures by Watteau, Greuze, Boucher and Fragonard; many fine pieces of Sèvres porcelain; furniture by the greatest French cabinet-makers such as Gaudreaus and Riesener, as well as miniatures, gold boxes, tapestries and sculpture. In his last decade he acquired the important collection of Oriental arms and armour and also bought some major European pieces.

He usually bought at auction through agents, preferring pleasing and sensuous works of art of a high finish, and he attached great importance to good condition and a known provenance.

More than any other Founder, it is his taste that has determined the character of the Wallace Collection we see today. He died at Bagatelle in August 1870 as the Prussian army advanced on Paris, bringing Napoleon III’s Second Empire to an end. He bequeathed his unentailed property, including his great collection, to his illegitimate son, Richard Wallace. The Marquisate was inherited by a second cousin.