The Wallace Collection has reopened the stunning Great Gallery after a two-year rebuilding programme led by architects, Purcell.

The Great Gallery was originally built by Sir Richard Wallace between 1872-5 as part of his major extension of Hertford House to accommodate his collection’s move from Paris to London. The Gallery was positioned behind the private living quarters in order to create a magnificent impact at the culmination of any visit. Following a £5 million rebuilding project supported by the Monument Trust, the Gallery is hugely impressive once again.

Described as “the greatest picture gallery in Europe” by art historian Kenneth Clark, the Great Gallery is a collection including many familiar works. The display features some of art history’s most famous sights, including Hals’ The Laughing Cavalier, Rubens’ The Rainbow Landscape, Poussin’s A Dance to the Music of Time and Velázquez’ The Lady with a Fan.


The intricate construction work by contractor Coniston was carried out while the building remained open to the public, and has involved almost a complete reconstruction of the Gallery within the retained external walls. This part of the building had been subject to many alterations since the late nineteenth century, these have now been stripped away and the roof’s original curved steel structure was reused.

The ceiling has been entirely renewed to reintroduce natural daylight (which is carefully conservation-controlled) and incorporate the environmental control in a more visually sensitive manner than when it was first introduced in the late 1970s. This allowed the architects to reference the original coved form of the ceiling with its delicate trellis plasterwork ornamentation in the new design. In developing the scheme, Purcell collaborated with John O’Connell of Dublin, with whom they have successfully worked on over a dozen gallery refurbishments at the Wallace Collection.


The Pompeian red silk was specially woven by Prelle of Lyon to a historically appropriate pattern researched from the weavers’ archive. The pattern can be read clearly between each painting and the use of a brocatelle gives a sculptural quality to the surface of the silk hanging. The wainscoting is also used to sculptural effect, and has been gilded to increase the sense of monumentality of the gallery. It also allows the paintings to be hung at different heights. Two doors were moved closer together allowing room to hang large pictures on either side of them. Other less visible improvements were made such as insulating the walls and roof.

Mark Hammond, Partner of Purcell and head of the practice’s cultural sector work commented, “The ambience and lighting in the gallery, despite its size, encourages an intimate relationship with the artworks, and the richness of the architectural finishes and detailing is an appropriate setting for these internationally significant works. We are delighted that this has already been recognised by the art critics benefiting from recent early viewings, who have been pleased to go into print with their praise.”

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