The Laughing Cavalier resides in a grand house in peaceful Manchester Square, just minutes from the mayhem of Oxford Street and a short stroll from Marylebone High Street. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that he smirks than laughs, but it is unmistakably him, as depicted by Frans Hals in 1624, and to be face to face with so famous an image is just one of the surprises of this museum.
The pieces that make up the Wallace Collection were assembled by the Marquesses of Hertford between 1760 and 1880 and bequeathed to the nation in 1897. These acquisitive aristocrats had a pronounced weakness for weaponry and armour, examples of which positively litter the vast house, lightened with Dutch masters and Classical statues, all displayed in beautiful galleries. Despite the splendour of the surroundings, a visit to the Wallace Collection is a pleasingly intimate experience, far from the conveyor belt feel of better known institutions.