Wellington: Triumphs, Politics and Passions
12 March – 7 June 2015
To mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, the gallery stages the first exhibition devoted to the Duke of Wellington.
The duke's victory over Napoleon is regarded as his greatest feat, enshrining his status as a national hero and legendary military leader. In fact, Arthur Wellesley participated in some 60 battles over the course of his career – often winning against numerically superior forces – and was also a successful politician who served twice as prime minister.
This exhibition charts the role of visual culture in creating Wellington's heroic persona. The art world was keen to celebrate the duke’s military successes and commemorative objects were popular across all levels of society. Objects on display range from paintings produced under royal commission to manufactured souvenirs aimed at the domestic market.
Particular attention is given to the how the duke himself exploited the medium of portraiture to shape the way he was represented in both his public and personal life. Examples include a piece by John Hoppner of the duke as a young soldier and an early daguerreotype portrait by Antoine Claudet taken on Wellesley’s 75th birthday – loaned from the current Duke of Wellington's own collection.
There is also a chance to explore the experiences of the men who fought in the duke’s armies, with eyewitness accounts, sketches and the illustrated diary of a young officer adding to the items on show here.
Goya’s portrait of Wellington is a highlight; it was started in 1812 after the duke's entry into Madrid but was later modified twice to recognise further battle honours and awards.
It is joined by Thomas Lawrence’s iconic 1815 portrait – painted in the same year as the Battle of Waterloo and used as the basis of the design of the British five pound note from 1971 to 1991.