Sir Charles Alten, Count von Alten
- Extended catalogue entry
Regency Portraits Catalogue
Sir Charles Alten, Count von Alten
by Thomas Heaphy
8 in. x 6 1/2 in. (203 mm x 165 mm)
This portraitback to top
Shortly after the Battle of Vittoria, Thomas Heaphy, an artist specialising in watercolour portraits, joined the cavalry staff in the Peninsula, possibly at Wellington's invitation (see F. M. O'Donoghue's article on Heaphy in Dictionary of National Biography) and began painting a series of portraits of officers in September 1813: 'a painter is at headquarters sketching a group for publication in which is a most excellent likeness of Lord Wellington' (Michael Glover, A Gentleman Volunteer: letters of George Henwell from the Peninsular War 1812-13, 1979, p 131). In October he was at St Jean-de-Luz: 'Mr Heaphy the artist is now here ... and it is said he has in consequence of these risks, added Ten guineas to the price of his likenesses, and made them fifty guineas instead of forty. This is too much for a little watercolour whole length; but he has, I hear, now taken twenty-six and some excessively like' (Private Journal of F. S. Larpent Esq. Judge Advocate General of the British Forces in the Peninsula, ed. Sir George Larpent, 1853, II, p 125). Wellington himself mentions a sitting at St Jean-de-Luz in January 1814. Heaphy returned to England early in 1814 (New Monthly Magazine, February 1814), going back to the Peninsula shortly afterwards till the end of the campaign: 'Mr Heaphy continued with the army in Spain about eighteen months, for the purpose of taking the Portraits for this great work' (Foster's sale catalogue, 5 May 1836 lot 236).
The drawings, pencil whole-lengths with the heads meticulously painted in watercolour and enclosed in pencil ovals as for miniatures, were studies for a group to be called 'The Duke of Wellington in Consultation with his Officers previous to a General Engagement' and were to keep Heaphy occupied for at least three years. It was seen unfinished by General William Clinton who visited Heaphy's studio on 6 December 1814 and mildly reproached him for the inconspicuous position given to his brother General Henry Clinton, one of the heroes of Vittoria:
I did not much fancy the sitting posture in which he had placed him, but Heaphy observed that it was all he could do, much as he regretted he could not give him a better place. He added that my brother could have been grouped with the other generals on horseback had he suffered him (Heaphy) to take his likeness while at Lord Wellington's headquarters, but that my brother had constantly refused, and that it was only since he came to England that Lady Susan and his friends had induced him to have his likeness taken; and that now he (Heaphy) was so solicited to introduce heads that he had a great difficulty in finding a place with a spying-glass in his hand on the Duke's left and looking attentively at him as he was despatching Lord Combermere with orders, but so persecuted is Heaphy to introduce figures that it seems by no means clear to me that my brother will now be but ill-placed considering the conspicuous part he has borne in the great transactions of the Peninsula ... (Clinton MSS, Diaries of General Sir William Henry Clinton, vol.55, p 123 in John Rylands Library, Manchester.)
The picture was nearly completed the following summer. In a letter to Lord Liverpool, one of the subscribers to the engraving, of 8 May 1815 Heaphy says: 'the picture will be finished next month, and the engraving will take three years after' (British Museum MS cit. William T. Whitley, Thomas Heaphy (1775-1835) First President of the Society of British Artists, 1933, p 21). Unfortunately the engraver Anker Smith died in 1819 and the plate had to be finished by Heaphy himself. It was finally published, with a key plate, on 8 August 1822, over the title Field Marshall the Duke of Wellington KG &c &c giving orders to his Generals previous to a general action ... The Scene upon the ground of the Battle of the Nivelle. The two engravings, Anker Smith's and Heaphy's, were exhibited at the Society of British Artists in 1824.
The picture itself; painted in oils, was probably very large and Heaphy was never able to dispose of it in spite of half-promises from George IV, the Czar of Russia and the Prince of Orange to buy it for 'the stipulated sum of Fourteen Hundred Guineas' (Foster's Catalogue, title-page). The engraving was lettered: 'from the original Picture painted for the King ...' but George IV managed to postpone the purchase indefinitely and a lengthy and sometimes acrimonious correspondence between Heaphy and the Duke of Wellington (one of the King's executors) in the Royal Archives, Windsor Castle, ends with the Duke's exasperated declaration: 'I think I recollect that he [the King] never liked it, particularly the Picture of myself' (William T. Whitley, Thomas Heaphy (1775-1835) First President of the Society of British Artists, 1933, pp 31-3). Heaphy died in 1835 and the picture appeared in the sale of his effects in 1836 as 'this splendid picture - the chef d’œuvre of the late Mr Heaphy - containing faithful and powerful likenesses of the Duke and principal Officers engaged in the Peninsular War - was painted expressly for that liberal patron of the fine arts, his late Majesty George the Fourth, for the stipulated sum of fourteen hundred guineas.' It was possibly a white elephant but Heaphy felt himself betrayed by both George IV and the Duke and in a parting shot from the grave he was able to say that 'his Grace not being able to render the desired assistance, the picture remained in the possession of the artist, by whose lamented decease it is now submitted (for the benefit of his widow and children) (Foster's Catalogue lot 236); efforts to trace its present location have failed.
Referenceback to top
Michael Glover, A Gentleman Volunteer: letters of George Henwell from the Peninsular War 1812-13, 1979.
Larpent (ed.) 1853
Private Journal of F. S. Larpent Esq. Judge Advocate General of the British Forces in the Peninsula, ed. Sir George Larpent, 3 vols., 1853.
F. M. O'Donoghue's article on Heaphy in Dictionary of National Biography.
Weigall (ed.) 1903
Correspondence of Lady Burghersh with the Duke of Wellington, ed. by her daughter Lady Rose Weigall, 1903.
William T. Whitley, Thomas Heaphy (1775-1835) First President of the Society of British Artists, 1933.
Physical descriptionback to top
Head turned half left in black cocked hat finished in watercolour, body sketched in pencil to waist; Waterloo Medal and Ribbon.
Provenanceback to top
Probably among a collection of 34 'whole length Portraits (Heads only finished)' in the Heaphy sale, Foster's 4-5 May 1836 (186-96) of which the purchasers are not named in the V&A Museum copy of the catalogue; probably bought in and then in Heaphy family possession until sold by a descendant, Mrs Caroline Georgina Heaphy Allen, through J. Rochelle Thomas of St James's, Christie's 22 July 1821 (1), bought Leggatt on behalf of the NPG.
This extended catalogue entry is from the out-of-print National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: Richard Walker, Regency Portraits, National Portrait Gallery, 1985, and is as published then. For the most up-to-date details on individual Collection works, we recommend reading the information provided in the Search the Collection results on this website in parallel with this text.
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