Every trip to London, I race to The Wallace Collection for some comfortable breathing space, and, more importantly, for gazing at the mesmerising Seymour family collection inside of this public townhouse, formerly belonging to the Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace. In the time of half an hour, and if one’s focus is solely on the paintings, not the splendid array of armoury, jewels, furniture, or pottery, one can see an entire range of European masters from Rembrandt to Murillo. Following a selection navigated by intuition, as is usually most profitable for the soulful spectator when viewing a gallery, I fell upon the following paintings, each of which inspired me to write down a few jolly criticisms.
Murillo, Esteban Bartolome: The Virgin and Child with a Rosary, 1670-1680 (The Wallace Collection)
There is a strikingly similar depiction of the Virgin and Child painted by Murillo in the Museo El Prado. Both feature the direct encounter with mother and child, the stark chromatic qualities in bright, pure skin tone, against a dark, thick background, and the child with a rosary bead. Both are wonderful, and, truly, Mr. Wallace has a painting worth seeing here. The effect is, of course, with Murillo, one of grace and majesty, as the heavenly presence abounds in the sense of divine peace offered by their open embrace with us.
Rembrandt: Titus, the Artist’s Son, 1657 (The Wallace Collection)
The pose is of a young man quite sure of himself, his right shoulder is turned slightly off-centre and his chin follows by the fraction of an inch, allowing room for a flourishing shadow. However, the manner felt in this posture is not one of entitlement or arrogance, but of the aspirational youth, wearing a sense of enthusiasm across his brow, as if inspired by his father’s brushwork, which, here, is by no means exemplary, considering the artist is Rembrandt. The frolic hairstyle adds vibrance to the character of Titus, as do the few creases in his cloak, which suggest, despite the hard stare, that this could well have been a lively and playful encounter between father and son.
Rembrandt: Jean Pellicorne with his son Caspar, 1632 (The Wallace Collection)
The father appears to be pleading at us, one step away from either grinning like a fool or bursting into tears; yet, either way, he is acting without the necessary attention or parenting skill required of his son, a seemingly wayward boy with little expression. However, I lack the understanding of sufficient context – what is in the small sack-cloth, the single item connecting the subject as one? There is an oddity to the picture, but, nevertheless, it comes to life, and due to the artist’s perfection, compels the viewer to step inside – the canvas grows a seed to do with reality; becomes real, regardless of interpretation.
Van Dyck, Anthony: Paris, 1628 (The Wallace Collection)
Paris is a male vision of beauty, with his muscular Greco-Roman torso and shoulders, his elegant and glossy blue tunic, and even a romantically fashioned set of dark and curly long hair. However, his pose is somewhat in retreat: his head turns left and downwards over his postured left-shoulder; his eyes appear soft and self-conscious, and the gesture of his left-hand almost meek and forgiving. Therefore, at a second glance, the painting takes on a feminine stance, in which one could almost substitute Paris for one of the three beautiful goddesses whom he is supposedly in the midst of having to judge, choosing one for himself; the golden apple in his right hand clearly signifies the Judgement of Paris, leading up to the battle of Troy. With such foresight of the ancient events taking place, we could distill a sense of fear in the countenance upon Paris’s face, and, at the very least, from the instrument of wood under his arm, thence perceived to be a weapon, believe that he is reckoning with the magnitude of what is to come.
Velázquez, Diego: Prince Baltasar Carlos in Silver, 1633 (The Wallace Collection)
Velázquez, Diego: The Infanta Margarita, 1656 (The Wallace Collection)
Velázquez is under the influence of a stirred soul, his paintings haunt the eye and proclaim the many deep mysteries of life, as Las Meninas gives us strong reason to believe. In these two portraits of children, one male, one female, the artist sculpts young royalty with an intensity that both at once expresses their infancy, and the innocence found there, as well as their power and the features of supremacy belonging to wealthy status. The approach is quite fluid, with thick brushstrokes and a sense of movement in space, doubtless the children would often shift their modelling position countless times. However, there is a gravity to each pose: the pale face of Maria is striking and austere, whereas the hue of Carlos is by contrast warm and appearing fresh. When viewed together then, the similarities of childhood can be captivatingly juxtaposed by the light and colour of a master like Velázquez.
Velázquez, Diego: The Lady with a Fan, 1640 (The Wallace Collection)
This female portrait is uncanny, as if the woman is being preyed upon by some grief, emphasised by her black clothing, and yet there remains a will of goodness and faith in her, the rosary and necklace clearly devoted to the Virgin. Thus, the character is intelligent and withered; making an effort to appear holy and beautiful, whilst clearly being a little tired or suffering of misery in the process.