Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait miniature of Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, KB, KG, GCB, GCH, PC, FRS (1769-1852) in scarlet major-general's coat with gold facings and epaulettes 

Robert Home (1752-1834)

Portrait miniature of Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, KB, KG, GCB, GCH, PC, FRS (1769-1852) in scarlet major-general's coat with gold facings and epaulettes, Robert Home
Watercolour on ivory
19th Century
5¼ x 3¾ in. (133 x 95 mm.)
Lord FitzRoy Somerset, 1st Baron Raglan (1788-1855). By descent to 5th Baron Raglan (1927–2010), Fitzroy John Somerset.
J. Steegman, A Survey of Portraits in Welsh Houses, Vol. II: South Wales, The National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, 1962, pp. 130-1. Recording a miniature described as ‘After R. Home, HL., to r.’ now believed by Philip Mould & Company to be the present half-length portrait miniature of Wellesley.
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This portrait miniature, by the artist Robert Home, is an important addition to the iconography commemorating Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington. Wellesley was unquestionably one of most significant military and political figures of the nineteenth century, being appointed Master-General of the Ordnance in 1819 and Commander-in-Chief of the British Army in 1827. The present work heralds the beginning of Home’s influential legacy of portraits celebrating the man and marking his extraordinary career.

This particular portrait derives from a large-scale version painted by Home while in India in 1804-5 [National Portrait Gallery, London, NPG 1471]. Examination of the artist’s Accounts and Sitter’s Book reveals that he painted the Duke on thirteen separate occasions. This miniature version was probably commissioned by an associate of Wellesley, quite possibly by Fizroy James Henry Somerset (1788-1855), later 1st Baron Raglan, Military Secretary and right-hand man to Wellesley in the Iberian Peninsula and at the Battle of Waterloo. Although we cannot be certain, this miniature may well be one of the small 500 rupee ‘heads’ listed between September 1804 and August 1806. Striking similarities with the style of the National Portrait Gallery version, such as the tonal range in the modelling of the face and the flecks of brilliant white in his eyes, help establish this rare miniature as a credible addition to Home’s oeuvre.

In 1798 Wellesley had embarked upon a challenging military campaign beginning in Calcutta, a centre of British occupancy in India, in which Home had conveniently established a successful studio in 1795. As Wellesley’s fame and fortune burgeoned, several small portable portraits were commissioned with a clearly defined purpose of disseminating his image both abroad and in Britain. His distinguishing features and stately deportment, now so redolent of military prowess, lent themselves well to Home’s multiple commissions.

Although Wellington also sat for the likes of Hoppner, Lawrence, Jackson and Goya during his life, it is perhaps not widely known that the iconography most evocative of him today is in fact derived from Home’s early portrait types, examples of which can be seen in the Government Art Collection, Apsley House, the Royal Collection and the aforementioned National Portrait Gallery.

As a thirty two year old Wellesley was famously described as ‘handsome, fashioned, tall and elegant’, and in the present miniature Home has chosen to depict him with the pride of a commander overseeing his troops, dressed in the formal uniform of the Major-General with the sash and breast star of the Order of the Bath and his right hand tucked behind. Wellesley was awarded the Order of the Bath in August 1804, purportedly receiving it in Madras the following March, suggesting that the work must have been painted sometime after March 1805 perhaps before Wellesley sailed home in September. Analysis of the full-length versions in the Government Collection by Home has confirmed the Order of the Bath was added to these original works once it had been presented to Wellesley affording the image further symbolic pageantry. By the time this portrait was painted Wellesley had already established a formidable reputation in India, defeating Tipu Sultan, the Tiger of Mysore in 1799 and masterminding, on behalf of The East India Company, the defeat of the Marathas at the Battle of Assaye in 1803. Reflecting on his military prowess, a witness in Calcutta recollected the colonel: ‘all life and spirit’ with ‘clear blue eyes’, ‘very brown’ hair and a ‘hooked nose’, all features memorialised in this miniature by Home.

Home initially trained under Angelica Kauffman at the Royal Academy, but his naturally inquisitive nature led him to seek work abroad, and in 1773 he set off for Rome, visiting Paris and Florence en route, remaining in Italy sketching antiquities until August 1777. He moved to Dublin in 1783 working there for six years, but following the unexpected death of his wife in 1790, made arguably the biggest decision of his life to depart for India. In due course the diarist and fervent patron of the arts, William Hickey, championed Home as - ‘the best artist in Asia’ - an opinion further substantiated in 1814 when he was appointed official court miniaturist, portrait painter and furniture designer to Nawab Ghazi-ud-din Haidar, King of Oudh [Nawab Ghazi-ud-din Haidar, King of Oudh, previously with Philip Mould & Company]. Among the communities of the British Raj, Home had become a most highly sought after painter of miniatures in the region.

Home finally retired to a ‘handsome establishment’ at Cawnpore (Kanpur) in 1827, where he lived comfortably supported by the substantial wealth created from a long and profitable career. He died aged eighty two having been well liked by all who encountered him, gaining the patronage of distinguished figures including Arthur Wellesley and his brother Richard, Charles, the 1st Marquess Cornwallis, alongside other noted English gentry including John Buller of Trenent [previously with Philip Mould & Company] and a number of Indian princes.
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