The National Portrait Gallery has launched a public appeal to acquire Sir Thomas Lawrence’s unfinished final portrait of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington. Currently hanging at the National Portrait Gallery against Mylands Burlington Arcade No.216 painted backdrop, the portrait has been offered to the National Portrait Gallery for £1.3 million. The appeal was kick started by a donation of £350,000 from the Art Fund, whose generous support means that alongside the Gallery’s own funds, £1 million of the total has already been raised. The Gallery has £300,000 to raise by spring 2017.
Backdrop painted in Mylands Burlington Arcade No.216
The Gallery has no other significant portrait of the Duke in its Collection, an omission of one of the most iconic and popular figures in British history. The Gallery has been seeking to secure such a portrait since it opened in 1856. This work is one of only two world-class portraits of Wellington ever likely to come up for sale. The leading artist of his age Sir Thomas Lawrence made eight portraits of Wellington and was the Duke’s definitive image maker.
The large oil-on-canvas portrait was commissioned a year after Wellington had become Tory Prime Minister by Sarah, Countess of Jersey, a leading political hostess and supporter of the Tories in the 1820s. Initially dedicating her social gatherings to the cause of the Whig party, in the late 1820s Lady Jersey switched her allegiance to the Tories, with Wellington becoming one of her favourites. She believed herself to be one of his confidantes, but he mistrusted her ability to keep a secret: earlier in life her loquacity had earned her the nickname “Silence.”
At Lawrence’s death in 1830 the portrait remained unfinished. But unlike many other clients, Lady Jersey refused to have it finished by a studio assistant. On hearing that the Duke of Wellington had fallen from power in 1830, Lady Jersey burst into tears in public. She reportedly ‘moved heaven and earth’ against the Reform Act 1832 which Wellington had also opposed.
Dan Snow, historian, broadcaster and co-author of The Battle of Waterloo Experience, says: ‘The “Iron Duke” is one of the towering figures of British history. He never lost a battle, reshaped Europe and dominated Britain until his death. His career and legacy are intimately involved with the development of the United Kingdom. Now, more than 200 years after his most famous victory at the Battle of Waterloo it’s time we helped the National Portrait Gallery win the day.’
Mylands are pleased to support the National Portrait Gallery in their plight to purchase the iconic painting. You can help by giving a donation here: www.npg.org.uk/support/donation/the-wellington-appeal.php