Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Richard, Marquess Wellesley KG (1760-1842), 1805 

Robert Home (1752-1834)

Portrait of Richard, Marquess Wellesley KG (1760-1842), 1805, Robert Home
Oil on canvas
18th Century
24 x 19 in (61 x 48.2 cm)
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Richard Wellesley’s achievements and reputation have been eclipsed by that of his younger brother, Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington. His most recent biography is titled, simply and unkindly, ‘The Elder Brother’. But by any standard of achievement Richard Wellesley merits his own fame, and even a place among Britain’s leading statesmen. He was, successively; Governor-General of India, Foreign Secretary, very nearly Prime Minister, and finally Viceroy of Ireland.

Wellesley presents something of a tragic figure. He achieved great personal and national success, but rarely found it matched by any personal happiness. He was formidably intelligent, but intellectually arrogant. He could be powerful and dominant, but was himself controlled by shyness. He was ultimately only happy when acting alone, outside the usual restrictions of formality, procedure, etiquette and custom. He was a renegade. In that sense, he was perfectly suited to the role of a powerful Governor General, and was more successful in his last major office as Viceroy of Ireland from 1821. As a liberal Whig he led, from Dublin, efforts for Catholic Emancipation. He resigned in 1828 when his brother, now the Duke of Wellington (and with whom he had fallen out) became Prime Minister.

This portrait of Wellesley was painted by the Calcutta-based artist Robert Home. Home’s sitter book records that it was commissioned by a Mr Fleming (the surgeon and naturalist John Fleming 1747–1829) in May 1805, at a cost of 500 rupees. Home was first commissioned by Wellesley to paint full-length state portraits in 1799, a version of which remains in Calcutta today. This example shows Wellesley in military uniform, with the orders of St. Patrick and the Turkish Crescent.

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