Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Arthur Wellesley Duke of Wellington (1769-1852) 1810c.

Thomas Heaphy 

Portrait of Arthur Wellesley Duke of Wellington (1769-1852), Thomas Heaphy
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Watercolour
19th Century
7 1/2 x 6 1/2 inches 19 x 16.5 cm
 
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Despite the frustration with which this work must be associated, the drawing of Wellington is a masterful study, and the natural dignity and authority of the commander are suggested with no less of naturalism. This is no doubt helped by the fact that – one suspects – these attributes were innate in Wellington, and no painter would ever have to invent them. Heaphy is perhaps the most accomplished of painters to whom Wellington sat whilst on campaign, and it is interesting in a period before photography to have such a true image of the general in the field rather than in the studio.

Thomas Heaphy is particularly known for heavily populated, panoramic canvases, such as the painting for which this drawing is one of many studies, The Duke of Wellington in Consultation with his Officers Previous to a General Engagement (versions Newcastle upon Tyne, Laing Art Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, London). Heaphy had been commissioned by King George III to paint a portrait of Lord Wellington and his officers, and had been personally invited by Wellington – who is not known for a reluctance to pose- to travel to Spain to make a large number of life studies. Some fifty officers were depicted in addition to Wellington, and the studies were used in the production of the great painting of Wellington giving orders to his staff. This work was completed in 1816, but despite the Royal commission the painting remained on the artist’s hands until his death. The engraving of the painting, from which Heaphy had expected to make a considerable amount of money was not completed until 1822 – not least due to the immense detail and intricacy of the depiction – by which time the public had lost interest in that turbulent period. The profits that the painter had so eagerly anticipated never materialised. A comparable work, The Battle of Waterloo 1816, remained sadly unfinished.
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