Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington
- Extended catalogue entry
Regency Portraits Catalogue
Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington
by Alfred, Count D'Orsay
53 1/4 in. x 41 in. (1352 mm x 1041 mm)
Inscriptionback to top
Signed and dated lower left along edge of table: Comte d'Orsay Pinx July 1845.
This portraitback to top
D'Orsay painted at least three versions of this portrait, probably the first being that now in the British Embassy, Paris, also signed and dated February 1845 and painted for Wellington's brother Lord Cowley. It was acquired for the Embassy from the 4th Earl Cowley in 1935. Two versions were in Lady Blessington's sale at Gore House in July 1849, both signed and dated July 1845 - one is NPG 405, the other in the Travellers Club, given by Lord Ravensworth in 1926. Haydon described the original, exhibited RA 1846, as 'capital, just like him when dressed for dinner' (Diary, 4 May 1846). Others may exist and certainly indifferent copies appear in the auction rooms from time to time.
A strange story may be found in the NPG archive. By the will of George Burnand of Tewin Water, Hertfordshire, the testator bequeathed to his sons 'the portraits of the late Duke of Wellington and of Napoleon as First Consul painted by Count D'Orsay and presented by him to me upon trust to permit my sons to enjoy …'. A subsequent letter from George Burnand, 6 February 1923, declares that 'my grandfather in his lifetime lent his picture to a Mr Vickers to have a copy made of it which is now hanging in the National Portrait Gallery. Would your committee like to buy the original?' Charles Vickers and George Burnand were partners in a firm of London stockbrokers. From a close scrutiny of the canvas however there is no indication that NPG 405 is not an original painting by D'Orsay.
Another letter in the NPG archive, from J. Vickers Newberry, nephew of Charles Vickers, claims that his uncle told him that 'while D'Orsay was about the picture Sir Edwin Landseer happened to go in his studio and he asked him to put in the lion's head on the console table on which the hand is resting and I believe you will find the monogram EL on it - few would know how that came there' (letter to Cust 13 May 1896 in NPG archive).
D'Orsay's oil portrait was preceded by a very successful enterprise in sculpture. He made an equestrian statuette of the Duke for reproduction in bronze (not to be confused with Cotterill's statuette published by Garrard in 1837) which as D'Orsay wrote to Henry Bulwer in March 1845 'the Duke declares the finest thing he has ever seen and the only portrait by which he would wish to be known to posterity' (Willard Connely, Count D'Orsay, The Dandy of Dandies, 1952, chapter XXIII , pp 409-11). This led in turn to a Parian bust published by Copeland and incised Comte d'Orsay sc. 1846. The Duke had given him four sittings, says D'Orsay, which 'he had refused to that fellow Landseer ... he marched up to the bust, paused and shouted, "By G-, D'Orsay, you have done what those d-d busters never could do." The Count's scheme was that Minton should manufacture ten thousand copies to be issued on the market at the Duke's death, his own copyright to be £10,000 (Bell, II, p 185). Both statuette and bust were achieved with the help of two professional sculptors, T. H. Nicholson and William Behnes, but as D'Orsay died in penury shortly afterwards they failed to make his fortune. A boxwood version of the bust was at Sotheby's 3 July 1969 (145). A wax profile, possibly by D'Orsay, was at Christie's 21 July 1970 (1).
A small whole-length oil by D'Orsay in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool (662), is of doubtful identity but may represent some other member of the Wellesley family.
Physical descriptionback to top
Three-quarter-length standing to right in black evening-dress, white waistcoat with gilt buttons (one undone), Ribbon of KG and Badge of Golden Fleece, cocked hat under left arm; silvery white hair and whiskers, pale grey eyes, pale complexion.
Provenanceback to top
Countess Blessington at Gore House; bought at her sale 15 May 1849 (1036) by James Yates, bookseller (probably agent for Charles Vickers); bequeathed by Charles Vickers 1875.
Exhibitionsback to top
Possibly RA 1846 (194); loan to King's College, Strand since 1973.
Reproductionsback to top
Mezzotint by C. E. Wagstaff published Mitchell 1846, said to have been used for Mitchell's medal 'under the superintendence of Landseer' (Illustrated London News, 1852, p 430).
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.