National Portrait Gallery targets "fuller picture" of Duke of Wellington on Waterloo anniversary

By Ben Miller | 03 November 2014

Duke of Wellington's loss of popularity to contrast heroism in Waterloo anniversary exhibition

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington by Sir Thomas Lawrence (1815-16)© Wellington Collection, Apsley House, London (English Heritage)
A young officer's diary destined for his sweetheart 200 years ago, a daguerreotype portrait by Antoine Claudet and Goya reworks enforced by military honours will be among the highlights when the first gallery exhibition devoted to the Duke of Wellington’s life opens next year, the National Portrait Gallery has announced.

Marking the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, the display of 59 portraits aims to reveal how the art world took on the political, military and personal life of the Duke, including Goya’s view of Wellington entering Madrid, started in 1812 but modified twice to reflect his later honours and awards.

Francisco de Goya, Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (1812-14)© National Gallery, London
Thomas Lawrence’s portrait was painted in the year of the Battle of Waterloo, becoming the basis for the British £5 note for 20 years from 1971.

A work by John Hoppner, of the Duke as a youthful soldier, will be one of several rarely-seen loans from the family of the Marquess of Douro, as well as the Claudet portrait, from Wellington’s 75th birthday, in 1844, and a drawing of his wife, Kitty, made by Lawrence and described as “beautiful” by curators.

A key concern of the exhibition will fall upon the soldiers who fought in Wellington’s armies, represented by eyewitness accounts and prints based on sketches by servicemen. Several satirical prints published during the Duke’s two spells as Prime Minister will also appear.

“The Duke of Wellington’s victory over Napoleon at Waterloo is well known,” observed Paul Cox, an Associate Curator at the gallery.

Benjamin Robert Haydon, The Duke of Wellington showing the Prince Regent (later George IV) the battlefield of Waterloo (circa 1844)© Stratfield Saye Preservation Trust
“This exhibition provides the opportunity to examine less familiar aspects of his life, including the long political career during which he saw through important forward-looking legislation, but suffered a dramatic loss of popularity.

“I hope that visitors to the exhibition will gain a fuller picture of Wellington as a man, rather than simply as a hero. ’”

  • Wellington: Triumphs, Politics and Passions is at the National Portrait Gallery, London from March 12 – June 7 2015. Part of the Waterloo 200th Anniversary Commemorations, visit waterloo200.org.

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Why close this exhibition before the anniversary? It should run for at least a month beyond because most people will only be waking up to the media coverage of the bicentenary after it has closed.
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