The National Portrait Gallery has launched a public appeal to acquire Sir Thomas Lawrence’s unfinished final portrait of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, it was announced today, Thursday 3 November 2016.

The portrait has been offered to the National Portrait Gallery for £1.3 million. The appeal was kick started today by a donation of £350,000 from the Art Fund, whose generous support means that alongside the Gallery’s own funds, £1 million of the total has already been raised.  The Gallery has £300,000 to raise by spring 2017.  

The Gallery has no other significant portrait of the Duke in its Collection, an omission of one of the most iconic and popular figures in British history. The Gallery has been seeking to secure such a portrait since it opened in 1856. This work is one of only two world-class portraits of Wellington ever likely to come up for sale. The leading artist of his age Sir Thomas Lawrence made eight portraits of Wellington and was the Duke’s definitive image maker.

Started in 1829, the year Wellington was appointed Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports and in which he fought a duel with Lord Winchilsea over the issue of Catholic emancipation, the unfinished portrait shows him in civilian dress with only his black collar and white stock visible. It was commissioned at the height of Wellington’s political career when he was Prime Minister.

At the time he was closely involved in the legislation around catholic emancipation and deeply opposed to the reform of the House of Commons. Earlier in the decade he had been involved in the delicate negotiations between the Prince Regent and the Prince’s estranged wife, Queen Caroline. He also represented British interests at the Congress of Verona in 1822, one of a series of conferences on European affairs after the Napoleonic Wars.

The large oil-on-canvas portrait was commissioned a year after Wellington had become Tory Prime Minister by Sarah, Countess of Jersey, a leading political hostess and supporter of the Tories in the 1820s. Initially dedicating her social gatherings to the cause of the Whig party, in the late 1820s Lady Jersey switched her allegiance to the Tories, with Wellington becoming one of her favourites. She believed herself to be one of his confidantes, but he mistrusted her ability to keep a secret: earlier in life her loquacity had earned her the nickname “Silence.”

At Lawrence’s death in 1830 the portrait remained unfinished. But unlike many other clients, Lady Jersey refused to have it finished by a studio assistant. On hearing that the Duke of Wellington had fallen from power in 1830, Lady Jersey burst into tears in public. She reportedly ‘moved heaven and earth’ against the Reform Act 1832 which Wellington had also opposed.

Dr Nicholas Cullinan, Director of the National Portrait Gallery, London, says: ‘We have been searching for a portrait that can do justice to this iconic British hero since 1856. The lack of a suitable depiction of the Duke of Wellington has long been identified as the biggest gap in our Collection. If we can raise the funds this remarkable painting by Sir Thomas Lawrence will be on permanent display and free for over two million visitors to enjoy each year.’ 

Stephen Deuchar, Art Fund Director, says: ‘The National Portrait Gallery will make a fine home for this intensely compelling portrait of Wellington. We are pleased to have made a major grant towards its purchase, and hope the public will support the appeal to raise the remaining funds. This is a very important national acquisition.’

Dr Lucy Peltz, Senior Curator, 18th Century Portraits and Head of Collections Displays (Tudor to Regency), National Portrait Gallery, London, says:  ‘This is a compelling portrait of one of the most famous figures in early nineteenth century Britain. Lawrence was a superlative portrait painter with the flair and talent to capture surface glamour and deeper currents. This unfinished portrait is shot with psychological insight. ’

Dan Snow, historian, broadcaster and co-author of The Battle of Waterloo Experience, says: ‘The “Iron Duke” is one of the towering figures of British history. He never lost a battle, reshaped Europe and dominated Britain until his death. His career and legacy are intimately involved with the development of the United Kingdom. Now, more than 200 years after his most famous victory at the Battle of Waterloo it’s time we helped the National Portrait Gallery win the day.’

The painting was lent to the National Portrait Gallery’s exhibition Wellington: Triumphs, Politics and Passions staged in 2015 to mark the bicentenary year of the Battle of Waterloo. Prior to its loan to the Gallery from a private collection for a short period of display just before the exhibition opened, the portrait, which is in excellent condition, had not been on public view for any significant period since it was painted. 

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NPG L257: Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (1769-1852)

Oil on canvas, 943 x 743 x 25mm

Head and shoulders, slightly to right, unfinished (1829)

By Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830) © Private Collection

IMAGE CAPTION Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1829 © Private Collection

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The portrait is unfinished and is in excellent condition remaining much as it would have looked when it was freshly painted by Lawrence. For example, unnlike most works of the period, this painting has remained unlined. Nor was it completed by studio assistants as so many of Lawrence’s unfinished works were, after his death. This reflects Lady’ Jersey’s vision for the painting and is a great stroke of luck as Lawrence’s Wellington has been allowed to shine.  It is noteworthy, that the Gallery does have another important and fine Lawrence portrait, of William Wilberforce, that Sir Robert Inglis, the patron, refused to have finished by studio assistants and it is the unfinished nature of this portrait which has contributed to making it one of the most popular historical portraits in the Collection. 

Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830)

Beginning his career as a child prodigy working in pastels, the gifted Thomas Lawrence succeeded Sir Joshua Reynolds as Britain’s greatest portrait painter. Lawrence’s virtuosity lay in his strong feeling for individual character, his dazzling brushwork and his innovative use of colour to evoke mood.  With the temperament and flair to capture the glamour of the age, Lawrence created the image of Regency politics and high-society. His international reputation was ensured when the Prince Regent commissioned portraits of all the foreign leaders involved in the downfall of Napoleon. He travelled throughout Europe to prepare this gallery of heroes for the ‘Waterloo Chamber’ (Windsor Castle), and these works established his position as the leading portraitist of royalty, military and elite society in general. The tour also ensured that Lawrence became the first British artist to achieve a significant international reputation. Moving through the ranks of his profession, Lawrence was appointed President of the Royal Academy in 1820. 

Arthur Wellesley, First Duke of Wellington (1769-1852),

The first Duke of Wellington rose to become a Field Marshall and a Prime Minister.  He was hailed as the national hero whose defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 saved Europe from tyranny. Along with Nelson and Byron his name and his reputation still stand for the age in which he lived.

Born to a poor Irish aristocratic family, he began his political apprenticeship in the Irish parliament in 1790 and his military career in India in 1798. Involvement in the Second Mahratta War trained him to command large armies, honed his military strategy and taught him diplomacy.  In 1809 he became Commander-in-Chief on the Iberian Peninsula, and he went on to campaign almost continuously until the Allies defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in June 1815. This victory led Wellington to be feted as the man who finally achieved the peace of nations.  His success lay in his conservatism, his logistics and his luck. He was respected by his men for his coolness and courage, but he did not court personal popularity and privately scorned his officers and troops for their coarseness.  Nevertheless, during the Peninsular Wars he was showered with British and foreign honours becoming as much a symbol of British national identification as Nelson before him and attracting a similar wealth of gifts, heroic paintings and public commemoration.

National prestige, and the need to find a public role for this hero, witnessed Wellington’s immediate post-war elevation to the Tory government and his role as diplomat and ambassador. In the 1820s he was involved in the negotiations between George IV and his estranged wife, Caroline, during the ‘Delicate Investigation’ and in acting on behalf of Britain at the peace congresses of Verona and Aix-la-Chapelle. 

After resigning command of the army in 1828, Wellington was Prime Minister between 1828 and 1830.   To avoid unrest he reluctantly pushed through the Catholic Emancipation Act, thereby costing him the support of the right wing of his own party and leading to defeat by Earl Grey’s reforming government in 1832. Wellington spent the rest of his political career resisting political reform.  Such was his extraordinary and enduring reputation, and the public sense of debt, that his splendid state funeral, in 1852, was attended by over a million mourners.

The Portrait

This is the last of Thomas Lawrence’s iconic portraits of the Duke of Wellington. His heroic victories in the Napoleonic Wars still underpin Britain’s place in Europe and his reputation and fame continue to characterize the period in which he lived. Wellington had a long and sustained relationship with Lawrence, whose stunning portraits of the sitter characterize the power and brilliance of both men in their respective fields. Among the three most powerful of these works, the unfinished ‘Jersey’ portrait offers the deepest insight into the Wellington’s personality and Lawrence’s approach to portraiture.

Painted a year after he took office as Prime Minister, this portrait depicts Wellington as statesman rather than soldier. This was a troubled time for the Tories who were facing agitation over Catholic emancipation – which Wellington reluctantly supported – and increasing demands for electoral reform – which he firmly opposed. Wellington’s imperious gaze and commanding presence in Lawrence’s portrait evokes the sitter’s firm resolve in facing down his critics and consolidating his party.  But there is also an intimacy and vulnerability about this portrait, perhaps due to its arrested state. This befits its original destination, having been commissioned by Sarah Sophia Child-Villiers, Countess of Jersey. She was the hostess of regular political gatherings: a key figure in Regency politics, and one of Wellington’s strongest and most influential supporters and friends. After Lawrence’s death, Villiers was unusual in refusing his executor’s offer to have the portrait finished by a studio assistant –the often unlucky fortune of the many unfinished works left in Lawrence’s studio. Villiers’ decision turned out to be inspired – the work’s unfinished state increases the emphasis on the sitter’s features offering an insight into Wellington’s personality and psychology. It also documents Lawrence’s working practices at the end of his life.

About Art Fund

Art Fund is the national fundraising charity for art. In the past five years alone Art Fund has given £34 million to help museums and galleries acquire works of art for their collections. It also helps museums share their collections with wider audiences by supporting a range of tours and exhibitions, and makes additional grants to support the training and professional development of curators. Art Fund is independently funded, with the core of its income provided by 122,000 members who receive the National Art Pass and enjoy free entry to over 240 museums, galleries and historic places across the UK, as well as 50% off entry to major exhibitions and subscription to Art Quarterly magazine. In addition to grant-giving, Art Fund’s support for museums includes Art Fund Museum of the Year (won by the V&A, London, in 2016) and a range of digital platforms.


Total cost of work (after any discount or tax remission): £1,300,000

Secured funding

Art Fund £350,000

Local/own funding £650,000 (£200,000 from Gallery Acquisitions’ Grant; £400,000 from Portrait Fund; £50,000 Gift Aid)

Amount to be raised £300,000

Total funding package £1.3m