The National Portrait Gallery announces very first exhibition on the Duke of Wellington

The Man Behind the Myth: NPG marks bicentenary of Battle of Waterloo with the first exhibition on the heroic Duke of Wellington

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1815–16, Wellington Collection, Apsley House, London (English Heritage)

With 2015 marking 200 years since the epochal Waterloo, the National Portrait Gallery has announced the very first gallery exhibition devoted to the Battle’s leading general and hero, the Duke of Wellington.

The Battle of Waterloo was fought on a Sunday, that of 18 June 1815, near Waterloo in what is today Belgium but at the time was part of the Netherlands. Napoleon’s French forces were defeated by the Anglo-allied armies of the Seventh Coalition, in what was reportedly an extremely close-run thing, with his loss ending his rule as Emperor of the French.

The Duke of Wellington showing the Prince Regent (later George IV) the battlefield of Waterloo by Benjamin Robert Haydon c. 1844, Wellington Collection, Stratfield Saye House © Stratfield Saye Preservation Trust

To be unveiled in March next year, the show will explore not only the phenomenal political and military career of the victor of this great battle but also his personal life, through portraits of his family and friends, right up until his lavish state funeral. Of course most famous for his victory at Waterloo, Wellington also later entered politics, serving twice as Prime Minister. Highlights will include Goya’s portrait of Wellington, and Thomas Lawrence’s famous 1815 portrait painted in the same year as the Battle itself. This iconic military image of Wellington was used as the basis of the design of the British five pound note from 1971 to 1991. Drawn from a variety of museums and private collections including that of the present Duke of Wellington, the exhibition of 59 portraits and other art works includes rarely-seen and precious loans from the family including a portrait by John Hoppner of the Duke as a youthful soldier and an intimate drawing of Wellington’s wife, Kitty. Eyewitness accounts will feature prominently, including prints based on sketches by serving soldiers and the illustrated diary of a young officer, Edmund Wheatley – written with the intention of it being read by his sweetheart.

Paul Cox, Associate Curator, National Portrait Gallery, London, says: ‘The Duke of Wellington’s victory over Napoleon at Waterloo is well known.This exhibition provides the opportunity to examine less familiar aspects of his life, including the long political career during which he saw through important forward-looking legislation, but suffered a dramatic loss of popularity. I hope that visitors to the exhibition will gain a fuller picture of Wellington as a man, rather than simply as a hero. ’


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