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Parade Antiques Blog

A Posthumous Portrait of the Duke of Wellington?

Unfinished Portrait of the Duke of Wellington ©NPG

Portrait of the Duke of Wellington, after Sir Thomas Lawrence

At a time when the National Portrait Gallery is busily purchasing a portrait of the Duke of Wellington, it seems rather fortuitous that we should find one on our doorstep.

Comparing Wellingtons

Of course, there are many differences between the two paintings.

The painting in London is a definite Thomas Lawrence, having been commissioned in 1829 by Lady Jersey, mistress and close friend of the Duke. With the untimely death of the artist a year later, the client insisted that the painting remained unfinished, and so, a canvas with a floating head was returned her way. It has remained in a private collection on the Channel Islands for much of its life, finding prominence only recently, after becoming the object of the NPG’s long-held desire to own a portrait of the Duke by Sir Thomas Lawrence. 

Despite an odd first impression, the portrait is well worth seeing. Some believe it will be recognised as Lawrence’s best depiction of the Duke of Wellington; but who can know for certain? It is certainly one of his more interesting, with the face of the Duke almost inscrutable. If pressed, one might settle on reflective, as though, he is considering his life and how it is seen uncritically by everyone but himself. For me, it throws to mind his gloomy prediction, “When my journal appears, many statues must come down.”

Our portrait is complete, but lacking any such lineage as far as we can tell. It would also seem that unlike the portrait in London, our painting has spent much of its life in a damp shed – a method on which art conservationists are currently torn. The previous owner swore by it; whilst everyone else considered it a bad idea. The face is almost certainly based on the one in the portrait mentioned above, but the Duke is wearing a red jacket and blue overcoat. We are yet to understand the significance of such a combination, but it is curious that Lawrence is never known to have used it in his own compositions. It seems unlikely to be the imagination of a copyist and must have a founding, somewhere. A man who disdained ostentation, did he consider it to be an acceptable compromise, between his military and civic status? Or was it simply a question of ease; a simpler and swifter way to finish an unfinished canvas.

In the coming weeks, we hope to shed some light on this unusual portrait.

Full Length - Portrait of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington

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