Thursday 22 March 2012

The Wallace Collection


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Extracts from Article by
Alfred S. Moore in "The Lady of the House," Christmas, 1917.

That the Wallace Collection must be for ever indissolubly associated with the Lisburn district of County Antrim, which, in the very great measure, made its existence at all possible, is beyond dispute. The Hertfords at various times acquired vast wealth by marriage [––?–––?---?---] that in addition there was regularly the "tidy little surplus" derived in rents from the Irish estate. This domain comprises -- or did prior to the tenants purchasing the rights in the eighties -- one hundred square miles. Stretching from Dunmurry, on the outskirts of Belfast itself, too Crumlin, and from Moira to the banks of Lough Neagh, the rent-roll up to 1845 afforded an income of probably £75,000 a year.

To comprehend how the famous Wallace Collection, now the artistic palladium of the British nation, was evolved, it is essential that we go back some generations to learn what manner of people its creators were. This magnificent art collection is attributed to the late Richard Wallace, Bart., but he, in a great measure, only completed the task which his kinsmen, the Hertfords began and successfully carried through during the successive lifetimes. To trace its beginning we turn back through four generations of this family to the first Marquess of Hertford, who was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1765-6. The portraits of his daughters by Sir Joshua Reynolds might really be regarded as the nucleus of the present Collection, and that is our only interest in him. Concerning the second Marquess of Hertford, who succeeded to the title in 1794, it will suffice to state that his part in augmenting the assemblage of pictures was by two works in 1810 -- one of great importance being the "Nelly O'Brien" of Reynolds, the other Romney's "Mrs. Robinson" ("Perdita").

The Third Marquess and Maria Fagniani.

If ever a specimen of humanity earned the description of "A Character," the popular term synonymous with individuality, it was the Third Marquess of Hertford -- Baron Conway and Killultagh in the peerage of Ireland. Singularly enough, two offers have chosen to immortalise his personality for us in literature. Thus we have his portrait as the Marquis of Steyne in Thackeray's "Vanity Fair;" while he also fascinated Disraeli, and was the original of the Marquis of Monmouth in "Coningsby." There are phases in his character which, not to put too fine a point upon it, scarcely makes his biography, ideally pabulum for the ambitious Sunday school scholar. Born in 1777, he was eminently notorious for the splendour of his entertainments, his accomplishments, his wit -- and his dissipation. But if his career was romantic enough to merit the attention of romantists like Disraeli and Thackeray, what may be said of the mysterious atmosphere in which the lady who became his wife in 1798 lived and moved? Marryat's "Japhet in Search of a Father" was tame enough compared with any attempt to elucidate the paternity of Maria Fagniani. Even now, considerably over a century later, there is nothing approaching certitude of the problem. We are told that, "under the blessing of the law," she was the daughter of the Marchese and Marchesa Fagniani; yet two others, George Selwyn and the Duke of Queensbury ("Wicked old Q"), both also claimed a parental interest. But "the Marchesa," who had been a ballet dancer, kept the secret of the past securely. Whenever her parentage, little "Mie, Mie" was assuredly born under a lucky star, for if her mother was indifferent in affection, she had the compensation of no less than a pair of guardians who absolutely worshipped her, and were both immensely wealthy. When Selwyn died in 1801 he left £33,000 Maria, and the rest to "Old Q." Then when "Old Q" came to quit the scene, dying in the odour of iniquity in 1810, Maria -- who was now Marchioness of Hertford since 1798 -- have her bank account increased by still another £350,000, as well as his famous house opposite the Green Park in Piccadilly.

When the third Marquess of Hertford died in London in 1842 he was credited with the possession of nearly £2,000,000.

"Old Q" had left to his heir £150,000, two houses in Piccadilly, a villa at Richmond, fflc., while the Marchioness was to receive a further £350,000. It must be remembered, too, that, in addition to all the wealth through his wife, the Irish estate at Lisburn County Antrim, was rolling in well up to £75,000 a year probably.

The Marquess was anything but beloved by his County Antrim tenantry. His estate might have had more personal interest had it been situated in the Cannibal Islands out in the wide Pacific. During his lifetime he never set foot in Lisburn, and he never renewed a lease without imposing a swinging fine. In the "Northern Whig" Dr. Henry Montgomery exposed the oppression of the poor tenants with such poignant candour that "My Lord" entered an action for libel against the newspaper. But he pulled in his horns amazingly quick when Daniel O'Connell declared that he would accept the "Whig" brief at the Antrim Assizes "without any fee or reward." An apology -- decidedly more like a repetition of the label! -- was the finale of the case.

The artistic conscience was certainly exhibited in the personality of the third Marquess. Of the pictures in the Wallace Collection, he bought TiTian's "Perseus and Andromeda," a Van Dyck, Gainsborough's "Perdita," five large "Caralettos," and a host of Dutch works. After his death it was indeed a curiously strange menage in Paris, that quartette -- the mother, the brace of sons (one legitimate), and that indefatigable enigma usually called "M. Richard," and often as "Dick Jackson" -- the Sir Richard Wallace, Bart., of later days.

In the next of the line the instinct of the collector had become a positive obsession. To the disgust of his contemporaries,

The Fourth Marquess,

Richard Seymour-Conway (who was born in 1800), was a collector, and nothing else. It is true he was for a time captain in the Dragoons, and attached to the Embassies of Paris, and also at Constantinople for brief spells. But in the main he lived in Paris, where he was regarded as a very cranky, eccentric bachelor, for he never married. Albeit, I had almost forgotten he was an exception to the preceding Seymour's, for (as Earl of Yarmouth) he was actually M.P. for County Antrim for four years (1822-6), but perfectly harmless in that role. He only knew Lisburn by name and by his bank-book, and up to his forty-fifth year had never set foot in the town.

The Marquess hankered after a vacant Garter, and when Captain Meynell (then member of Parliament for Lisburn) approached Sir Robert Peel, that famous statesman said: "No; let him earn the honour by showing me he is no longer a detestable absentee landlord, the curse of Ireland." Some promise was probably given of repentance, and in October, 1845, the great man paid his first, and only, visit to the estate which gave him his immense income.

This fourth Marquess of Hertford, although he possessed four palatial mansions in London, besides Rugley, Sudbourne, and other places, made his home in Paris. He may be described as an impassioned art fanatic, for the gathering of pictures and objets d'art generally, expressed the Alpha and Omega of his existence. Albeit, there is this to be said of this expensive hobby, that it did no harm to others -- and I was actually made the nation its beneficiare. From 1842 to 1870 he was filling his rooms, No. 2 Rue Lafitte, Paris, to overflowing with his purchases. He disliked all publicity, and seldom appeared in the salesrooms. But he had his scouts, and his agent, Mr. S. Mawson, had full instructions and trust. Certainly the letters reproduced by Lord Redesdale, in his recent book, "Further Memories," give much insight into his keenness in the hunt. When he did happen to attend any of the Art Sales in London or Paris, it was Mawson who did the bidding. There was a semaphore code in the movement of the Marquess's hat. To any art critic anxious to glean something of the prices paid -- though the works must be now, in many cases, value for ten times more -- the perusal of Lord Redesdale's chapter must have vital interest.

In 1857 some idea was given of the collection by along to Manchester of 44 pictures. They filled the wall in that wonderful exhibition, and photographs of 30 pictures were published by Colnaghi in 1859. Undoubtedly, he may have paid too much for some Ary Scheffer's (£4,000), but such cannot be stated of Rembrandt bought in 1848 but £2,300, a Reynolds at £64, six other Rembrandts at £5,453, or a Van Dyck at £400. His trusty Lieutenant was "M. Richard," alias Dick Jackson, otherwise Richard Wallace -- for in his youth he bore all names.

This Dick Jackson, otherwise Richard Wallace, was the personage whom Lisburn people knew in the flesh up to 1890, as

Sir Richard Wallace.

He was M.P. for Lisburn from 1873 to 1885.

What was his relation to the Hertfords?

The "Dictionary of National Biography" gives one version of the origin of this great connoisseur. It is that Maria Fagniani was his mother, but of course the fourth Marquess was not his father. Why then did he lavish so much affection and wealth on him? The truth is rather that the Marquess was his father, but Maria Fagniani was not his mother. Lord Redesdale vouches data from people who were intimately acquainted with all the scandals of the early half of the nineteenth century. He makes it out that Richard, Lord Hertford, when a youth, was enamoured of a Scotch girl of humble birth, Agnes Wallace, afterward Jackson, and that she was the mother of Sir Richard Wallace.

Lord Esher confirms this statement by giving chapter and verse. "Wallace was the son of Lord Yarmouth by a girl, Agnes Jackson by name. She was a kind of fille du regiment of the 10th Hussars, and young Yarmouth made a home for her in Paris. There Wallace was born, and when Yarmouth parted from Jackson the child was placed with a concierge in the Rue de Clichy. There he ran wild until he was six years old. My grandfather, who had known Agnes Jackson and all about her short-lived associations with Lord Yarmouth, hunted up the boy, and finding he was smart child, showed him to Lady Hertford (Maria Fagniani). The latter adopted him, much against the inclination, at first, of her son."

Lord Hertford was at times very strict with his protégé, for he was born with prodigal tastes. Sir Richard Wallace used to tell how he picked up a lovely little gem, an engraved crystal tazza of Italian work, as an odd sort of rag-and-bone shop near the Temple. Some time after he was rather hard up, and, taking the curio to Lord Hertford, he asked him  to buy it. "No," was the answer, "I won't have it; I will not encourage your extravagance. You must learn to be more economical." The youth sold the tazza to a dealer for 250 francs, and, happily, was able to buy it back again -- but the ten times that price and more.

So " Monsieur Richard” became Lord Hertford's shadow and agent, his representative at auctions and sales of art. It is one redeeming trait that, if the Marquess was cold and harsh to his tenantry in Ireland, he showed much kindly affection to Wallace, who reciprocated the feeling. Still, I can scarcely imagine that even Wallace anticipated in what whole-hearted and practical way this eccentric nobleman later showed his love for him.

Succeeding the funeral in Paris on that August afternoon in 1870, the reading of the will was the occasion of very much astonishment indeed. Thus the title and entailed estates passed to the elder son of the deceased Marquess's cousin, Sir George Seymour, G.C.B. The legacy looked imposing. There were broad acres in Warwickshire -- but unremunerative. The keeping up with the title itself was a great strain on a man not too wealthy, and then the great costly palace would require £2,000 a year for its upkeep. Where was the money to do so? But SIr George Seymour listend on, for there was surely more to follow. There was. It was the codicil, dated the June previous, to this effect:-- "To reward as much as I can Richard Wallace for all his care and attention to my dear mother, and likewise for his devotedness to me during a long and painful illness I had in Paris in 1840, and on all other occasions, I give all my unentailed property to the said Richard Wallace, now living at the Hotel des Bains, Boulogne." That "unentailed property" comprised not alone the priceless Collection, but the houses in Paris -- Bagatelle and No. 2 Rue Lafitte -- and the big estates in Lisburn vicinity. Richard Wallace was utterly unaware of his great fortune until that afternoon of the funeral. Can you wonder how the legitimate heir waxed wrath, and even entered a caveat, but unsuccessfully? Now, how would Wallace show himself?

Kind hearts are more than coronets. Compare the portraits of Sir Richard and the fourth Marquess and you will observe close resemblances. In general characteristics few gentlemen of kinder heart could be mentioned. In Paris, during the Exhibition there of 1871, he made his mansion at Bagatelle that ever-open resort of linen manufacturers and merchants and others from Belfast, Lisburn, and Ulster generally who exhibited. One of his earliest missions was to visit Lisburn, and he showed his interest in the townspeople and tenantry in general. The reign of terror and oppression so long imposed on the estate was at once changed. Dean Stannus, the old agent, was replaced by another, and tar-barrels burnt in rejoicing. The tenants had encouragement to buy out their farms and holdings, and instead of the bad old "fines" system they had the privilege of twenty years' purchase, even though others were willing to agree to the more extended twenty-five years. The progress of Lisburn was advanced by grants of sites in fee simple, so that the towns valuation, which was only £15,339 in 1874, became £23,650 in 1893. He built a residence for himself opposite the Castle Gardens, and it is now utilised as a splendid technical institute. Then in 1884 he given Lisburn its handsome Wallace Park of twenty-five acres, and the year previously built the handsome Courthouse, with its Corinthian pillars, beside the railway station.

(This article was originally published in the Lisburn Standard on 22 March 1918 as part of a series which ran in that paper each week for several years. The text along with other extracts can be found on my website Eddies Extracts.)


  1. I have a silver cup that Sir Richard Wallace Bart presented to the Natl Artillery Shoeburyness.
    Can anyone give me information on

  2. I absolutely love the flow, truth and glorious cynicism in this essay. I was researching Lady Wallace aka Julie and looking for Slave Trade connections because the family wealth was/is astronomical. Thank you. Made my day.