I realised a couple of weeks ago that, even though I’ve spent plenty of time visiting galleries and museums in London, that I’d never actually been to the Wallace Collection. I have been meaning to go for ages, and decided that, last weekend, I had a free morning in London and it was time to finally visit. Not only this, but a couple of days before going, I found out that the Wallace was hosting a new exhibition: a carefully curated display of shoes created by Manolo Blahnik to show where inspiration has been drawn from the beautiful collections at the Wallace, and how parallels can be drawn between art and fashion.
It is no secret that two of my favourite things on the planet are art and shoes (and that often I think these two things can be indivisible). I was lucky enough to visit the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto last autumn, where they were hosting a Manolo Blahnik exhibition that took my breath away, particularly when looking at the beautiful sketches of the shoe designs – read about that here. This exhibition proved to me that Blahnik’s shoes were very much works of art in themselves, and made me really interested in the inspiration behind some of the designs, which meant that I was doubly excited to get to the Wallace and see the themes in the different rooms of the collection be given a kind of new expression through the choice of shoes on display in there.
Here are some of my favourite displays of “An Enquiring Mind”:
I think possibly the best room for me was the Oval Drawing Room, which was themed Love and Passion. I think I could have predicted this beforehand, as this room is home to Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s beautiful Swing and François Boucher’s Madame du Pompadour, two paintings I was really excited to see. The shoes in this room were the most beautiful pastel colours, and not only this, but were the shoes Blahnik designed for the 2006 film Marie Antoinette, starring Kirsten Dunst and directed by Sofia Coppola. Everything about this room was so beautiful, with passionate rococo scenes on the wall and delicate details on the shoes emulating this perfectly.
I mean, just look at that gorgeous table in front of the fireplace with the shoes in the glass domes on top – could this be more stunning?
The shoes surrounding Fragonard’s Swing: bows, flowers, pinks… I was in eighteenth-century French heaven here and spent a long time inspecting everything closely before I could even consider moving on to the next room.
I loved the details of the shoes in the Boudoir Cabinet: subtly placed to compliment the delicate miniatures under the theme of Opulence, there was something really special about the shoes being there and reflecting the sumptuous colours of the collection here. The sparkle of the shoes seemed to emphasise the precious stones used in the diamond-mounted gold boxes as well. I loved that this was a smaller, darker space as well, without the light and airy feel of the other high-ceilinged rooms: it served to make the designs seem even more opulent and beautiful.
The theme in the Large Drawing Room had the theme of Connoisseurs and Collectors. The Wallace was borne out of the collections of the Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace, who was the illegitimate son of the 4th Marquis. Though the collection in full force really began with the 3rd Marquis, the Wallace shows five generations of collecting within the museum, right from the 1st and 2nd Marquesses. I really liked this room because of the huge Boulle wardrobes, the beautiful emerald wallpaper and the stunning chandelier.
The shoe on the right was my favourite: how stunning is the pattern on it and the buckle?
In the Great Gallery, I absolutely loved the displays of shoes at either end, particularly the beautiful pink tasselled boot that wasn’t too far from Titian’s Perseus and Andromeda from the poesie cycle (another painting I was desperate to see). The vibrant colours of the shoes really picked out colours in the masterpieces surrounding them.
In particular, I really liked the black and brown boot next to Frans Hals’ Laughing Cavalier – it really stood out to me as a beautiful match between art and fashion. The colours and the stitching really pick out details from Hals’ painting. I just love it!
There were many other beautiful displays of shoes amongst the fabulous Wallace Collection that I could mention – but you’ll just have to go and see it for yourself! The exhibition runs until September 1st 2019 and is completely free to visit. It is definitely not one to miss!