Royal Armouries exhibition to pair iconic Waterloo artworks with arms and armour from the battle

By Richard Moss | 12 May 2015

Daniel Maclise's monumental Waterloo cartoon gets its first airing in 40 years together with some iconic objects at the Royal Armouries


a drawing of a reflective Scottish soldier in a Bonnet
A detail of the 'Waterloo cartoon' © Royal Academy
The Royal Academy’s recently restored 14-metre-long Waterloo Cartoon is to be revealed to the public for the first time in over forty years at the Royal Armouries in Leeds who are pairing a series works of art with arms and armour for a dramatic major exhibition marking the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo.

Curators at the Leeds museum have been busy studying and matching a series of iconic Waterloo paintings with key objects and artefacts from the battle. The centrepiece is the epic Daniel Maclise masterpiece, which captures the meeting of Wellington and Blucher and the aftermath of Waterloo in lifelike detail. 

When it was first shown to the public in 1859, the full-scale 14 metre-long preparatory drawing (for a wall painting that still graces the Royal Gallery of the House of Lords), caused a sensation.

Leeds curators will be hoping modern day visitors will be similarly impressed as they pair the impressive artwork with some equally impressive objects on loan and from the Royal Armouries own collections to tell the dramatic story of the events of June 18 1815.

Artefacts accompanying the Maclise cartoon include the Duke of Wellington’s five draw telescope, which is featured in the Maclise cartoon and which he carried during the battle. A rare cuirass, a type of breastplate worn as body armour by French cavalry, shot through with a cannon-ball will also be displayed.

a photo of a breastplate with a cannonball-sized hole in its breast
French cuirass, a breastplate worn as body armour by French cavalry. The hole is from a British cannonball that smashed through the unlucky soldier’s chest.© Musée de l’Armée
Promising a “different approach” to exploring the “harrowing and remarkable battle”, senior curator Mark Murray-Flutter, said the representation of the battle through art and arms and armour would help visitors “understand and cast a different light on the events of that fateful day".

"The result is a moving and compelling retelling of the story of the battle of Waterloo," he added.

Other famous artworks featured in the exhibition include Lady Elizabeth Butler’s rousing depiction of the charge of the Royal Scots Greys, Scotland Forever! The Retreat from Quatre Bras by Edward Crofts and The British Squares Receiving the Charge of the French Curassiers by Felix Henri Emmanuel Philippoteaux.

Complementing them will be a further selection of carefully chosen arms, armour and artefacts from the battle.

The new exhibition also coincides with the re-display of the Royal Armouries' Siborne model, Captain William Siborne’s famous miniature recreation of the Battle of Waterloo which he completed in 1843.

Measuring 5.6 by 2.3 metres and comprising ten sections, Siborne’s detailed scale recreation was the second diorama he made of the battle.

The first attempted an overview of the whole engagement and is now at the National Army Museum, but the Armouries' version captures in greater detail the pivotal battle around the La Haye Sainte farmhouse and adjacent crossroads at approximately 2pm on June 18.

Populated by more than 3,000 finely modelled and painted lead and tin figures including soldiers, horses and artillery it even includes the death of Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Picton who was killed during a bayonet charge. The model has undergone a painstaking conservation over the last few months.

The Waterloo Cartoon will be returned to the Royal Academy of Arts for display from 2nd September 2015. The Daniel Maclise wall painting can be viewed as part of an exhibition, entitled Waterloo, Wellington and Westminster, at the Royal Gallery, House of Lords from June 18 2015.

a photo of a model diorama with soldiers attacking a large farmhouse
The Siborne model - a detail of allied soldiers defending the La Haye Sainte farmhouse© Royal Armouries, XVIII.82.4
a photo of a brass and wood telescope
This telescope belonged to the Duke of Wellington and was used at the Battle of Waterloo. Later in life Wellington presented it to Sir Robert Peel, the founder of the modern police force© Royal Armouries
  • WATERLOO 1815: The Art of Battle Exhibition at the Royal Armouries Leeds May 22 – August 23 2015.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

More on Waterloo 200. 

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Robert peel did not create the first police force. Glasgow did.
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