The new show at Tate Britain, British Baroque: Power and Illusion starts in another epoch when our relationship with Europe was a tad strained, let us say, and ends at the point when a German prince who spoke not a word of English was invited – if not begged – to take over the English throne. You’d almost think Tate Britain had timed this show deliberately.
How to typify the Wallace? Can you, indeed? In spirit it’s maybe close to the passion of a collector such as Sir John Soane, who also founded his own public museum (there is something very English about this kind of obsession – think of the Ashmolean in Oxford, the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge). It’s something like the Frick in New York, only bigger, better, wider-ranging. There’s not an item in it that doesn’t have some claim to be exceptional – rare beyond belief if not unique, superlatively made, exquisitely beautiful.