Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington
Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington
by Sir Thomas Lawrence
oil on canvas, 1829
38 in. x 30 in. (965 mm x 762 mm)
Purchased with support from the Art Fund (with a contribution from The Wolfson Foundation), the G and K Boyes Charitable Trust, the National Heritage Memorial Fund, Deborah Loeb Brice Foundation, the Portrait Fund, and many contributions from the public following an appeal by the National Portrait Gallery, 2017
Sitterback to top
- Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (1769-1852), Field Marshal and Prime Minister. Sitter associated with 640 portraits.
Artistback to top
- Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830), Portrait painter, collector and President of the Royal Academy. Artist associated with 689 portraits, Sitter in 25 portraits.
This portraitback to top
This portrait depicts Wellington as statesman rather than soldier. It was painted a year after he took office as Prime Minister. This was a troubled time for the Tories who were facing agitation over Catholic emancipation – which Wellington grudgingly supported -- and increasing demands for electoral reform — which he opposed firmly. 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. The painting was commissioned by Sarah Child-Villiers, Countess of Jersey who, as the hostess of a political salon, was a key figure in Regency politics and one of Wellington’s strongest and most influential supporters. After Lawrence’s death, she refused the executor’s offer to have the portrait finished by a studio assistant. This unfinished state increases the emphasis on the sitter’s features while giving insight into Lawrence’s working practices at the end of his life.
Linked publicationsback to top
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- Cox, Paul, Wellington: Triumphs, Politics and Passions, 2015 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 12 March - 7 June 2015), p. 36 Read entry
Thomas Lawrence's unfinished portrait was painted during this important period in Wellington's political career. It was commissioned by the immensely wealthy Sarah, Countess of Jersey, but remained unfinished on Lawrence's death. Nonetheless, the artist has captured in Wellington's face a feeling of sensitivity appropriate in a portrait made for one of Wellington's most devoted friends. Lady Jersey was a leading social and political hostess of her day. Initially dedicating her social gatherings to the cause of the Whig party, in the late 1820s she switched her allegiance to the Tories, with Wellington and Sir Robert Peel becoming her particular favourites. She believed herself to be one of Wellington's confidantes, but he justifiably mistrusted her ability to keep a secret: earlier in life her loquacity had earned her the nickname 'Silence' among her acquaintances.1
1 K. D. Reynolds, 'Villiers, Sarah Sophia Child-, Countess of Jersey (1785-1867)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2004).
Subjects & Themesback to top
Events of 1829back to top
Current affairsMetropolitan police force of over three thousand paid, uniformed, professional policemen founded by Home Secretary Sir Robert Peel.
Roman Catholic Relief Act grants emancipation; Catholics admitted to vote, sit in parliament and hold almost all public offices.
Art and scienceSuccess of George Stephenson's Rocket steam engine at Rainhill Trials.
First London bus service licensed; the new 'box-on-wheels' contributes greatly to the expansion of the suburbs.
Apsley House completed for the Duke of Wellington by Benjamin Wyatt.
First Oxford and Cambridge boat race.
InternationalAndrew Jackson is elected President of the United States.
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