The Wallace Collection’s current exhibition of art assembled by its namesake, Richard Wallace (1818–90), is both celebration and revelation.1 It’s Wallace’s two-hundredth birthday, a worthy milestone for the museum that holds the single most valuable gift of art the British nation has ever received. This magnitude of philanthropy is itself a shock. The collection of works by Canaletto, Hals, Rembrandt, Poussin, Fragonard, the best British portraitists, and so many others is not entirely a secret pleasure. Though its Manchester Square location in London is not the most conspicuous, connoisseurs of all stripes know the museum well and love it.

Much of the collection was built...

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