Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait Bust of the Duke of Wellington (1769-1852), 1852 

Matthew Noble 

Portrait Bust of the Duke of Wellington (1769-1852), 1852, Matthew Noble
19th Century
30 in (76 cm) high
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This bust of the Duke of Wellington in later life, wearing the Waterloo medal on the lapel of his tunic, is one of the very few known marble versions of a composition that was later worked up into a full length statue situated in Manchester`s Picadilly. The prime version is dated 1851, and was apparently commissioned by the Army and Navy Club. This was exhibited at the RA the following year (no.1442) along with a statuette of Sir Robert Peel, and it seems that Noble then produced at least two other versions in marble during 1852. Gunnis notes that busts of Wellington and Nelson from that year were also made for Grocer`s Hall, London, and a further version exists in the Walker Art Gallery , Liverpool. Howerver, that made for Grocer`s Hall was apparently destroyed by fire in the mid 1960`s and the later is considered to be unsigned and dated . Several smaller bronze and parion versions are also dated 1852, but only two surviving full-scale marble busts other than that offered here have been publicly documented over the two years in question or at any other time thereafter. Wellington visited the RA exhibition on 28th of July 1852, and whilst it is not known if he went specifically to see Noble`s bust, the meeting would have been considered a public blessing for what would become the sculptor`s most influential portrait.

Noble was born at Hackness, Yorkshire. He studied under John Francis (1780-1861) in London, and entered the first of 100 ensuing exhibits at the RA in 1845. Although still a relative unknown, he won the commission for the Manchester monument of Wellington (erected in 1856) against keen competition, and this was to be the work that established his name in the public mind. A consideration of the head and clothing of the statue show clear indications that it was modelled from this bust of the sitter - both bust and statue epitomise Noble`s style: classical controposto and dignity combined with a contemporary realism in the attention given to the rendition of the sitter`s costume and medal - and thus Noble`s most famous work was born from the same siiting that yielded the bust type a year before Wellington`s death in 1852. It is certainly likely that the sculptor secured the commission for the Manchester monument on the strength of the bust, both in the empathy of its characterisation and enduring heroism in capturing the sitter at the end of such a remarkable life.

Noble himself was weak throughout his life, his constitution was so delicate that he was effectively killed by the shock of losing his son in a railway accident. An obituary in the Art Journal of 1876 commented that it seemed `surprising to those who knew him personally that he should have lived even the comparatively short period of his life, and yet more that he should have been able to continue his labours. Few men have been more esteemed or regarded, not alone for his great ability , the manifestations of talent that very closely approximated to genius, but for rare qualities of mind and heart....He was a gentleman of high rectitude, irreproachable in all the relations of life`(1). Other portrait busts include those of Queen Victoria and the Prince consort, Sir Robert Peel, W. Etty, R.A., the Archbishop of York and the Bishop of London.

1) R. Gunnis `Dictionary of British Sculptors` pg.274
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