Massive 13-metre Waterloo Cartoon emerges from Royal Academy stores for Waterloo Bicentenary

By Culture24 Reporter | 21 April 2015

The famously monumental Waterloo Cartoon of Daniel Maclise is about to re-emerge after a lengthy conservation at the Royal Academy

a detail of a drawing showing fallen soldiers and horses
Daniel Maclise, RA, Cartoon for 'The Meeting of Wellington and Blücher After the Battle of Waterloo' (1858-1859) (detail)© Royal Academy of Arts, London. Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates Limited
Moving and monumental, Daniel Maclise’s massive cartoon marking the moment the two victorious generals met on the field at Waterloo is as much a memorial to suffering as it is to victory.

At more than 13 metres wide and three metres high, The Meeting of Wellington and Blücher after the Battle of Waterloo, 1858-1859, is also one of the largest and most detailed cartoons to survive in the UK.

Completed when the Battle of Waterloo was still in living memory, it took Maclise more than a year to complete and involved extensive research.

The artist studied eye witness accounts to ensure his depiction was plausible and at one point Queen Victoria and Prince Albert even became involved in the process, using their contacts in Germany to gather information from Prussian officers who were present on the day.

The resulting work, which was made as a study for a fresco painting that now hangs in the art gallery of the House of Lords, is still remarkable for its lack of triumphalism and the stoicism of Wellington and Blücher when faced with the reality and tragedy of war.

It was rightly considered a masterpiece of its time, bought by the Royal Academy in 1870 - the year of Maclise’s death - and shown at Burlington House until the 1920s. But the fragility of the artwork means it has remained in storage for much of the last century.

Now, after an Arts Council funded conservation, the vast work is about to be displayed again in a brace of special exhibitions at the Royal Armouries in Leeds and the RA commemorating the Battle of Waterloo. It will be the first time the work has been seen since 1972.

“Epic doesn’t begin to describe either Daniel Maclise’s original drawings or the restoration project that The Waterloo Cartoon has just undergone,” said Tim Marlow, the Director of Artistic Programmes at the Royal Academy. “Only by seeing it will anyone fully understand its power, impact and importance.”

As well as an accomplished history painter, Daniel Maclise worked as a book illustrator and painted portraits, with notable sitters including Charles Dickens, Sir Walter Scott and Nicolo Paganini.

In 1857 he took up the subject of The Waterloo Cartoon to help secure the prestigious commission to paint a series of frescoes in the Royal Gallery at the House of Lords - part of a scheme spearheaded by Prince Albert to fill the new Houses of Parliament with grand, site-specific art works, celebrating the nation’s heritage.

The Royal Academy of Arts will lend The Waterloo Cartoon to the Royal Armouries in Leeds for the exhibition Waterloo 1815: The Art of Battle from May 23 until 23 August 23 2015. It will then be returned to the Royal Academy for display from September 2 2015.

a photo of a group of conservators working on a large drawing on several large panels
Conservation treatment being carried out at the Royal Academy© Benedict Johnson
a drawing of a group of soldiers with a priest administering the last rights
Daniel Maclise, RA, Cartoon for 'The Meeting of Wellington and Blücher After the Battle of Waterloo' (1858-1859) (detail)© Royal Academy of Arts, London. Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates Limited
a drawing of a group of Napoleonic officers on horseback with swords drawn
Daniel Maclise, RA, Cartoon for 'The Meeting of Wellington and Blücher After the Battle of Waterloo' (1858-1859). Chalk on paper, ten separate sheets attached to individual panels© Royal Academy of Arts, London. Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates Limited
a photo of a large drawing in panels in a conservation room
Conservation process of The Waterloo Cartoon by Daniel Maclise, RA© Benedict Johnson
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