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In London: art beyond the Tate

Galleries with ambience and intimacy beckon visitors after they've hit the popular museum of modern art

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Like eager sardines, my sister and I spilled out of the elevator at the hugely popular Tate Modern, joined by schools of fellow modern-art lovers. Rather than face daunting lines at the cafe, we had to split a bag of chocolate-covered raisins for lunch.

Our battle through the throngs at the Tate had left us famished – both for a sandwich and a more relaxed way to experience the city's art. Fortunately, we discovered a collection of smaller, intimate museums whose ambience inspires, rather than overwhelms. Each, in its own way, is a quiet triumph. Their buildings are rich in history. Several offer stylish new restaurants where one can refuel during lengthy picture-gazing sessions. Here are our favorites:

The Wallace Collection

In 1797, when the second Marquess of Hertford acquired Hertford House, the property looked upon the woodsy outskirts of London, an area prized for duck hunting. Today, bargains have replaced ducks along now-busy Oxford Street. From Selfridges department store, it's a five-minute walk to the elegant brick Hertford House, home to the Wallace Collection, which is considered one of the greatest private art collections ever assembled.

The collection comes as a result of passionate collecting by five generations of one of England's wealthiest families, descendants of Edward Seymour, Lord Protector of England from 1547 to 1549.

At the request of Richard Wallace, the fourth marquess's illegitimate son, knighted by Queen Victoria, his widow bequeathed Hertford House to the nation a century ago, with the stipulation that nothing in the mansion would be added or removed.

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