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  • Articles by Sonali

    Wellington Triumphs, Politics and Passions

    This smallish exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery commemorates the 200th Anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo (18 June 1815) near Belgium, when British forces were led by Arthur, 1st Duke of Wellington, renowned for being a great soldier. Wellington and his achievements are set in a wider context, considering his earlier postings in India and Europe, and the people who helped him during his ascent, culminating in victory at Waterloo.

    On display are celebratory souvenirs (plates etc), and pictures of various shapes and sizes, including the magnificent, panoramic view of ‘The Battle of Waterloo’ (1815), a painting by George Jones. Wellington (formerly Arthur Wellesley b.1769) is decked out in full military attire in famous portraits by Goya and Sir Thomas Lawrence and here he looks authorative, but the tide turned against him during his turbulent political career that followed.

    Highlights include 'The Illustrated Diary of Edmund Wheatley’ (1812-17), a poignant record of a junior officer’s life. Displayed opposite is an impressive and delicate series of mini colour portraits of Wellington and his officers, sketched during the Peninsular War by Thomas Heaphy. War artist Denis Dighton was commissioned by the Prince Regent to provide war images, producing paintings that often present a biased view of action such as ‘Defence of the Chateau de Hougoumont’ (1815).

    The exhibition makes a few contemporary references such as the photograph or daguerreotype of Wellington taken on his 75th birthday in 1844 when photography was new fangled, and a caricature by cartoonist William Heath pointing at perhaps his most enduring legacy: the Wellington boot. Incidentally, Wellington has been parodied by actor Stephen Fry in several episodes of TV sitcom ‘Black Adder’.

    Wellington died in 1852 and his funeral procession is represented on a 67ft long scroll painted by George Augustus Sala, featured as a whole on a scrolling screen. He certainly was a high-achiever - but perhaps he cuts a rather anachronistic figure, like James Bond from the olden days. There are some terrific pictures on display here, that invigorate this even-handed and refreshingly low-key overview of his life and work.

    Wellington Triumphs, Politics and Passions at the NPG ends 7 June 2015

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