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National Portrait Gallery secures last Duke of Wellington portrait after £1.3 million appeal


Sir Thomas Lawrence’s unfinished painting is described as world-class.

The last portrait of the first Duke of Wellington has been acquired by the National Portrait Gallery after a £1.3 million appeal.

Sir Thomas Lawrence’s unfinished final portrait of Arthur Wellesley is one of only two world-class portraits of the Duke ever likely to come up for sale.

The artwork was commissioned by Sarah, Countess of Jersey, at the height of Wellington’s political career when he was Tory prime minister and was started in 1829, showing him in civilian dress with only his black collar and white stock visible.

At Lawrence’s death in 1830 the large oil-on-canvas portrait remained unfinished and Lady Jersey refused to have it finished by a studio assistant.

The London gallery raised £1.3 million to acquire the painting with donations from more than 500 supporters in the UK and abroad, a grant of £200,000 from the G and K Boyes Charitable Trust, £180,000 from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and a donation of £350,000 from Art Fund.

The painting was loaned to the National Portrait Gallery’s exhibition Wellington: Triumphs, Politics and Passions from a private collection in 2015 to mark the bicentenary year of the Battle of Waterloo.

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Before that it had not been on public view for any significant period since it was painted.

It is considered to be an important acquisition for the gallery, which has no other significant portrait of the Duke of Wellington and has been seeking to secure such a portrait since it opened in 1856.

Dr Nicholas Cullinan, director of the National Portrait Gallery, said: “We are delighted to have acquired this remarkable painting by Sir Thomas Lawrence which will now be on permanent display and free for over two million visitors to enjoy each year.

“We have been looking for a suitable depiction of the Duke of Wellington since our founding in 1856 so we are hugely grateful to Art Fund, the G and K Boyes Charitable Trust and the National Heritage Memorial Fund, and all our visitors and supporters, who have given donations to help us acquire for the nation this magnificent portrait.”

Historian Dan Snow, who is the co-author of The Battle Of Waterloo Experience, added: “Wellington is a titanic figure in British history. Our only field marshal prime minister, a man of genius on and off the battlefield.

“This arresting portrait must sit in the national collection, and now following an outpouring of generosity, it will do. The artist has captured the Duke’s legendary demeanour.

“Among his many contributions to British life he forged the masculine culture of unbending froideur in the face of adversity. It is as special as a work of art as it is as a primary source.”

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