Historical Portraits Picture Archive

A 'cabinet' sized portrait miniature of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (1769-1852), in field marshal’s uniform, 1814 

William Grimaldi (1751-1830)

A 'cabinet' sized portrait miniature of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (1769-1852), in field marshal’s uniform, 1814, William Grimaldi
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Watercolour on ivory
19th Century
Rectangular, 7 ½ x 5 ¾ in. (19 x 14.5 cm.)
 
Provenance:
‘Captain’ Edwin Stacey; By family descent
Exhibited:
Probably the version exhibited Royal Academy 1815, no.555
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We are grateful to Stephen Wood MA FSA for contributing to this catalogue entry.


The military historian Professor Richard Holmes wrote that the first Duke of Wellington, ‘ranks, with the Duke of Marlborough, as one of the two greatest generals Britain has produced.’

This portrait miniature depicts the Duke of Wellington as he appeared when approaching the zenith of his military prowess: a highly decorated British field marshal with a string of battlefield victories behind him and only that of Waterloo to come. Datable to one month in 1814, during the period between Wellington’s return from the Peninsula and his travel back to the continent to take up the Paris embassy, it is believed to be the only portrait miniature of the duke to have been commissioned and executed at that time. Although Wellington is known to have sat to the portraitists Sir William Beechey (1753-1839), Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830), James Lonsdale (1777–1839) and Thomas Phillips (1770–1845), and to the sculptors George Garrard (1760–1826) and Peter Turnerelli (1771/2–1839) during his stay in England in 1814, there is no evidence that he sat to any miniaturist other than William Grimaldi during that period.

Grimaldi already enjoyed a longstanding relationship with the Duke, having painted him as a major general, circa 1805, the year after his appointment as ‘Enamel Painter to the Prince of Wales’. In 1814, according to the Grimaldi family papers, the artist was called to Apsley House to paint the Duke from life. It is likely that the present miniature was taken from the four sittings Grimaldi was asked to attend in July of that year, as it is the largest of three watercolour versions painted by him. The wording on the backing paper of this miniature, simply stating ‘The original’, could also confirm that this was the miniature for which Wellington sat, despite that accolade having been attributed to other versions by the artist.

According to the Grimaldi family papers, the present miniature was commissioned by twenty-year-old Edwin Stacey, a close acquaintance of William Grimaldi and his family. In 1815, the year after this portrait of the Duke was painted, Grimaldi was busy with portraits of members of the Stacey family, including a miniature of Flint Stacey (1745-1802), the sponsor (godfather) of Grimaldi’s son (and Edwin Stacey’s father), and a reduced copy of the portrait of ‘Captain’ Edwin Stacey exhibited at the Royal Academy that year.

Interestingly, it seems Edwin Stacey requested his commissioned portrait of the Duke of Wellington be compositionally similar to that of his own portrait, produced by Grimaldi in 1811: three-quarter-length and turned to the left, with the same dramatic smoky sky.

Both portraits are also ‘cabinet’ size – large enough to hang on the wall and not intended as worn jewels. The catalogue compiled by A.B. Grimaldi forty years after the artist’s death states that Edwin Stacey served under the Duke of Wellington in the Iberian Peninsula, although not in the rank of captain, but it is thought unlikely that the two men ever met. Edwin Stacey’s commission of a portrait of the Duke of Wellington in 1814, and his later ownership of other enamels by Grimaldi of the Duke, all hint at his idolisation of Arthur Wellesley as a military hero. He was of course not alone in his veneration of Wellington but the display of his own portrait alongside that of Wellington at the Royal Academy exhibition of 1815 may have been the ultimate public honour for the young Stacey.

Grimaldi has portrayed the duke in the dress uniform of a British field marshal, a rank to which he was promoted by the Prince Regent with effect from 21 June 1813. The date was that of Wellington’s armies’ victory over the French at the Battle of Vitoria. After that battle, the baton of Maréchal Jean-Baptiste Jourdan was captured and passed to Wellington, who sent it home for the Prince Regent enclosed with his dispatch announcing the victory. In his letter of congratulation, the prince notified Wellington that he had been promoted to field marshal and implied that a British field marshal’s baton would be forthcoming. However, as Colonel Henry Torrens, Military Secretary at the Horse Guards, wrote to Wellington on 21 July 1813,

‘It does not appear that there ever has been an English baton; and no better occasion can ever occur of establishing one than the present. I am therefore getting one prepared to present to each of our Marshals; and if I am not interfered with from the fountain of taste, I trust that it will be found an appropriate badge of command.’

It seems likely that ‘the fountain of taste’, as Torrens wryly referred to the Prince Regent, did become involved in the design of Wellington’s baton, since it is unique: its rich and extravagant decoration is clearly shown in this portrait miniature.

Also very carefully depicted is the sword awarded to the duke by the Corporation of the City of London, together with the Freedom of the City, on 9 May 1811. Mounted in gold, this sword cost the City 200 guineas but was retained by the City authorities until it could be presented to the duke. The presentation took place during a grand City banquet at Guildhall on 9 July 1814.

Although it is not known exactly when Wellington received his baton, the date of presentation of the City’s sword provides a terminus post quem for the date after which he must have sat to Grimaldi for this portrait miniature. Its terminus ante quem must be the date when he left England for the continent, 8 August 1814.

Elements of the duke’s dress in this miniature symbolise the extent to which Wellington was, as Holmes wrote in 2002, ‘[a] commander within [a] coalition’. This is best demonstrated by the variety of insignia of foreign Orders of Chivalry that Grimaldi has minutely depicted, all of which the duke had received by July 1814. It is also shown by the presence of the crimson and gold waist sash of a Portuguese marshal-general, to which rank Wellington had been appointed on 29 April 1809, worn beneath that of a British field marshal.

This particular combination of uniform, baton, sword, Order stars and waist sashes is only found on two other full-length portraits of Wellington commissioned in 1814: that by Sir Thomas Lawrence, commissioned by the Prince Regent and now in the Royal Collection, and that by James Lonsdale, now in the Government Art Collection and on loan to the British Embassy in Vienna. However, in both the Lawrence and the Lonsdale portraits, Wellington is shown wearing the red and white sash of the Austrian Order of Maria Theresa over his right shoulder, crossed with that of the Order of the Garter over his left.

Thus, this miniature by Grimaldi appears to be unique insofar as in its depiction of Wellington, in field marshal’s uniform with baton, sword, decorations and waist sashes and executed in 1814, only the sash of the Order of the Garter is shown.

Born in Ireland in 1769, Arthur Wesley, later Wellesley, was a younger son of Garret Wesley, 1st Earl of Mornington. First commissioned in 1787, he spent little time in any regiment as he negotiated his way rapidly upwards through the commissioned ranks of the Army but gained valuable experience of court and politics through being an ADC to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and an Irish MP. The outbreak of war with Revolutionary France in February 1793 provided a stimulus to Arthur’s career: he was in the right place at the right time and well-connected. By September 1793, he was lieutenant-colonel in the 33rd Foot and had, albeit temporarily, abandoned his Irish appointments: at an opportune time, he was ready for active service.

There seems little doubt that that first experience of modern warfare was a formative one for the young lieutenant-colonel. Among other things, it taught him the value of sea-power in support of land forces and of the importance of logistics; it also enabled him to exercise battlefield command of bodies of troops, in which he acquitted himself well. Wellesley was one of the few who emerged from the debacle of the Flanders campaign with any merit: he had found his métier and gained golden opinions from his superiors.

If Flanders was Wellesley’s baptism by fire, India was the making of him: those consecutive experiences gave Britain the ablest battlefield general of his generation. The India in which Wellesley arrived in 1797 was one in which the British were still comparative newcomers and so one in which riches, as well as reputations, were to be won; Wellesley went home eight years later with both, as well as a knighthood and the rank of major general. Tipu Sultan of Mysore was finally beaten, the French deterred from conquests in India and the battles of Assaye, Argaon and Gawilgarh, fought and won against the Maratha confederation. By 1805, India was far more British than when Wellesley arrived. By the age of thirty-six, his professionalism was complete and he was hungry for more challenges.

Those came with the Peninsular War and an opportunity, at last, to take the war on land to the French. After a false start in 1808, Wellesley returned to Portugal in 1809 in command of an expeditionary force that, with its Portuguese and Spanish allies and supported by the Royal Navy, would eventually constitute the ‘Spanish ulcer’ credited by Napoleon as the cause of his destruction. Initial success, at Talavera, brought him a peerage, and the title ‘Wellington’ to public attention. Retrenchment behind the Lines of Torres Vedras followed, wearing down the French forces. Further victories brought steps in the peerage in 1812 and 1813. A final and inexorable advance on France’s south-western flank during 1813-14 paralleled similar pressure on her north-eastern borders from Austria, Russia and Prussia and resulted in Napoleon’s abdication. Wellington emerged from Spain into France in 1814 a duke, a Knight of the Garter and, at home, the Hero of the Hour. Which is how Grimaldi represented him in this portrait miniature.

A period as a diplomat followed before he faced the greatest challenge of his military career: Waterloo, 18 June 1815. Commanding an army with little of the campaign-hardened strength of that which he had led in the Peninsula, and reliant at last on the coming of either ‘Night or the Prussians’, Wellington prevailed – as the world knows – but, as he said, it was, ‘a close-run thing’.

For the rest of his life, Wellington was a politician, championing Catholic emancipation but resisting Parliamentary reform. Remaining a soldier too, he was the Army’s Commander-in-Chief twice. This was the period when the expression ‘The Duke’ could mean only one man: the subject of many biographies and portraits, Wellington was a figure as instantly recognisable as when he sat to William Grimaldi for this portrait miniature in 1814.
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