The Wallace Collection: records

Scope and Content

Records in the archive which can be used to chart the history of the museum include: reports on the housing of the Collection following Lady Wallace’s bequest; trustees’ minute books and correspondence; records relating to the evacuation and storage of the collection during the First and Second World Wars; details of exhibitions held at the Wallace Collection; establishment records giving information on members of staff from the opening of the museum; press cuttings, and records of refurbishment projects including the Centenary Project of 1997-2000.

Administrative / Biographical History

When Lady Wallace died in 1897 she bequeathed to the British Nation the pictures and works of art on the ground and first floors of Hertford House. Her will also specified that the government should provide a new site to house the collection in central London, that the collection should be kept together and unmixed with other works of art and that it should be known as The Wallace Collection. The second term explains why the Wallace Collection does not acquire new works of art for the Collection and why it does not permit loans of objects in the Collection to other museums.

The government accepted Lady Wallace’s terms and a committee was established to report on the housing of the collection. Three options were proposed: that the Collection be moved to the National Gallery where it would be housed in a purpose built wing for it (where the Sainsbury Wing is today); that it be moved to the V&A (dismissed by the committee early on as South Kensington was not deemed to be central enough); or for the government to purchase the freehold of Hertford House. The later option was decided on and over a three year period Hertford House was converted for use as a museum. The Wallace Collection opened to the public as a National Museum on 22 June 1900.

The first director of the Wallace Collection was Claude Phillips (1848 – 1924) whilst the first chairman of the Board of Trustees was John Murray Scott who had inherited the bulk of Lady Wallace’s remaining property. John Murray Scott showed a keen interest in the Collection and would often share his knowledge of the Collection with Claude Phillips; he died whilst doing this in Hertford House in 1912.

During the First World War the Wallace Collection remained open until February 1916, when it was forced to close due to staff shortages. The Collection was evacuated to the basement to keep it safe from air raids and the upper floors of Hertford House were used as offices by the Geographical Section of the Admiralty Intelligence Department. In 1917 the decision was made to evacuate the collection to the Post Office Underground Railway tunnels at Paddington, work needed to be done to make the tunnels suitable for the storage of works of art and the evacuation did not begin until 8 April 1918. Due to the lack of resources it took until October 1918 to evacuate the entire Collection. From September 1918 Hertford House was taken over by the Munitions Ministry and they did not leave until the end of 1919, despite attempts made by the Trustees to regain Hertford House. The Wallace Collection did not re-open to the public until November 1920.

The lead up to the Second World War saw careful planning by Wallace Collection staff on what to do on the outbreak of war. The decision to evacuate the collection was taken on August 23 1939 and by the time the then director Sir James Mann returned from the continent on August 28 the vast majority of the Collection had already been evacuated to Hall Barn and Balls Park, Buckinghamshire. Hertford House was made available for temporary exhibitions during the Second World War including the Arts and Crafts (1941) and the Artists Aid Russia (1942) exhibitions.

The housing and display of the Collection has been a priority for the Wallace Collection since its founding. As an island site space has been a major issue in Hertford House. The Centenary Project which was completed in 2000 improved access to visitors of The Wallace Collection. It also created 30% more public space in Hertford House with parts of the basement being converted into a Visitors’ Library; Education Studio; Lecture Theatre and two Exhibition Galleries. Since 2000 exhibitions have been held regularly at The Wallace Collection some of the most successful include Joshua Reynolds: Experiments in Paint (2015), Lucian Freud: Latest Paintings (2004) and Treasures of the Black Death (2009).

The success of the Centenary Project was followed up with a series of gallery refurbishments to improve the display of objects and visitor experiences throughout the Collection. The refurbishment of the Great Gallery was completed in 2014 to great acclaim.

In recent years the Wallace Collection has enhanced its reputation through the publication of scholarly catalogues on the Collection. These catalogues capture research by Wallace Collection curators on objects in the Collection, exploring how and by whom they were made and how they found their way into the Collection. The most recent catalogues produced include the ‘Catalogue of Italian Sculpture’ and the ‘Catalogue of Glass & Limoges Painted Enamels’.

Access Information

Access restricted until catalogued, contact for further information.

Other Finding Aids

A basic box list exists for part of the collection, this is available here.

Conditions Governing Use

Readers are permitted to use cameras on the purchase of a reprographics permit. The charges are £2 for a daily or £5 for a weekly permit.

Related Material

The Wallace Collection also holds the archive of Francis Watson (1907-1992) who was Director of the museum between 1963 and 1974.

The National Archives at Kew hold administrative records of the Wallace Collection dating from 1897-1979.

Corporate Names