Wernher Collection at Ranger’s House

    £16.50
    /person normally
25592

What you'll do

Built-in 1723, Ranger’s House is an elegant redbrick Georgian villa on the edge of Greenwich Park with the Meridian Line passing through its grounds.
 

Enjoy access to the Wernher Collection at Ranger’s House with The London Pass®

  • Pay nothing at the door - simply show your pass.
  • See over 700 pieces, including Renaissance paintings, unique wood carvings, religious statues, Gothic ivories, and handcrafted furniture, each with its own story to tell.
  • Learn about Sir Julius Wernher, the man who brought all these diverse pieces together, learning about his life, his work, and, most importantly, his singular taste in art, which privileged pieces he described as ‘splendidly ugly’.
  • Discover the history of Ranger’s House, the home of the Wernher Collection, built in the 1720s by a rich naval officer and later lived in by the 4th Earl of Chesterfield.

The Wernher Collection at Ranger’s House is one of the finest private art collections in Europe, drawing together over 700 individual pieces collected by 19th-century diamond magnate Sir Julius Wernher. Featuring fine medieval jewelry, Italian sculptures, French furniture, and Renaissance masterpieces, the collection is housed in the 18th-century Ranger’s House, a historic Greenwich building.

The Wernher Collection history

Sir Julius Wernher was born in Darmstadt, Germany in 1850. He moved to London in his early 20s, gaining a job as a clerk in 1871. Soon after beginning his new position, he was asked by French diamond dealer Jules Porgès to join him on a trip to the newly discovered diamond mines in Kimberley, South Africa.

Over the next 10 years, Wernher transformed Kimberley’s nascent mining industry into a professional and extremely profitable business. Built upon the labor of locals, who were met with horrendous, life-endangering working conditions, the mines developed rapidly and made Wernher incredibly wealthy. As well as developing the mines, Wernher became a skilled and successful trader of diamonds. In 1884, he diversified his mining interests to take advantage of the discovery of gold in South Africa.

He was lauded for his level-headedness, business instincts, and financial acumen, which helped make him one of the wealthiest men in the United Kingdom at the time of his death. He is also remembered for his philanthropy, having bequeathed £250,000 to a project to build a university in Cape Town, and £100,000 to London’s Imperial College of Science and Technology.

His immense wealth allowed Wernher to invest heavily in art, perhaps his primary passion. He filled his London home, Bath House on Piccadilly, and his country estate with artworks from across Europe. His experiences grading diamonds in South Africa no doubt made him passionate and knowledgeable about superior quality craft and design so, upon returning to London in 1881, he set about building a vast collection that catered to his unique tastes.

His collection includes works by Old Dutch Masters, French porcelain and furniture, and Italian sculptures—large and bold, and grand pieces of historical and artistic note. Many of the highlights of the collection are, however, diminutive in form, and their beauty is more personal to the collector himself. Wernher was a fan of ‘splendidly ugly’ artworks, primarily smaller ivories, metalworks, wood carvings, and enamels from the Renaissance and medieval periods. These unique pieces often portray unusual subject matter, are richly embellished and decorative, and often aren’t attributed to any one artist.

English Heritage acquired Ranger’s House—the former abode of the 4th Earl of Chesterfield, and later the home of Greenwich Park rangers (groundskeepers)—in 1986. A decade later, they worked with the Wernher Foundation to bring Julius Werner’s collection to Ranger’s House, and thus save it from being sold off to individual collectors and institutions. The Wernher Collection at Ranger’s House is displayed according to how Wernher himself curated his pieces, using photographs taken at his London and countryside homes.

The Wernher Collection highlights

  • Admire the diverse and extensive collection of medieval, Renaissance, and early modern European art, one of the finest to be assembled by a sole collector.
  • Learn through the collection how art developed in Europe, as objects once admired only for their religious meanings and devotional uses came to be adored for their aesthetic beauty and interrogation of natural and spiritual life.
  • Chart the history of the collector himself, learning about his life, work, and passions, and how each influenced the other, helping to create the collection we see today.
  • Discover more about the historic Ranger’s House and those who called it home.

The Wernher Collection facts

One of Ranger’s House’s former residents became particularly well-known after their untimely death. In 1727, Admiral Francis Hosier died in the Caribbean alongside thousands of his own men, while blockading Porto Bello, a port on the coast of what is now Panama. The disaster was commemorated in a 1740 ballad, Admiral Hosier’s Ghost, published in the broadsheet newspapers, which served as an attack on UK government policies perceived as instrumental to the tragedy.

The Wernher Collection at Ranger’s House contains a piece long considered to be a latter-day imitation of Botticelli’s Madonna of the Pomegranate. However, modern-day conservation work has revealed it to be a version of the artwork created by the artist’s own workshop.

Exhibitions

The Emperor of China Tapestries

Depicting the life of Chinese Emperor Kangxi, these tapestries highlight the immense European interest in Eastern cultures at the turn of the 18th century. The scenes show many examples of European notions of the ‘exotic’, including baskets overflowing with fruit, wild animals in courtly situations, and opulent architecture.

Oval Dish

A piece by prominent French Renaissance ceramicist Bernard Palissy, this remarkable work was created using casts made from real-life eels, fish, and crabs. It highlights a development in ceramics technique in a striking, unusual whole.

Memento Mori Pendant

The pendant shows a well-dressed young woman, alive and well on one side…and her rotting skeleton, taken over by worms and salamanders on the other. It is a very literal and striking example of a memento mori, objects designed to remind the owner of the temporary nature of life and physical beauty, and the need to remain chaste and virtuous in the eyes of God, as death is just around the corner.

Know before you go

Getting in: show your pass at the attraction entrance.

For more information visit the Wernher Collection at Ranger's House website.

Where you'll be

Operating hours

1st April to 2nd October - tours run:

Sunday-Wednesday: 11 AM and 5 PM

 

Closings & holidays

Thursday - Saturday

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Free cancellation

Plans can change, we get it. All non-activated credits packages are eligible for a refund within 90 days of your purchase date.

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