Fundraising pays-off as the National Portrait Gallery acquires historic artwork
After fundraising for a staggering 161 years, the National Portrait Gallery in London has finally acquired an unfinished portrait of the Duke of Wellington by Sir Thomas Lawrence, it has been reported.
The gallery reached its target of raising £1.3 million for the artwork, which consists of a painting of man regarded as Britain’s greatest soldier at the time of creation.
According to the gallery’s director Nicholas Cullinan, the National Portrait Gallery has been searching for a suitable depiction of the Duke of Wellington since it was founded back in 1856.
In November 2016, the gallery announced that it had £300,000 left to raise for the artwork. Thanks to a donation of £200,000 from the G&K Boyes charitable trust, £180,000 from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and a further £570,000 form a public appeal and the gallery’s own funds, the target was met. Previously, the Art Fund contributed £350,000 to the portrait.
Art enthusiasts will be pleased to hear that the portrait will go on permanent display in Room 20 of the gallery, alongside paintings of reformers William Wilberforce and Hannah More, philosopher Edmund Burke, and prime ministers George Canning and William Pitt.
Mr Cullinan called the portrait a “remarkable painting”, reports the Guardian, while the National Portrait Gallery’s senior curator of 18th century paintings said the artwork was “an eloquent and powerful image of one of the most iconic and influential men of the 18th and 19th centuries”.
The masterpiece was painted in 1820 when the Duke of Wellington was prime minister. However, artist Sir Thomas Lawrence died in 1830, meaning that the painting was left unfinished. Despite this, the gallery recognises no flaws and claims that the work is more compelling because of its incomplete nature, focusing more on the Duke himself than his accoutrements of power.
Historian and broadcaster Dan Snow claims that the Duke was a “titanic figure” in British history. “[He was] our only field marshal prime minister, a man of genius on and off the battlefield”, said Mr Snow.
“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.”
Titled the ‘Iron Duke’, Wellington is the only person to have made it through the entire declension of British peerage. He started out as Arthur Wellesley before becoming Sir Arthur, Baron Wellington, Viscount Wellington, Earl of Wellington, Marquess of Wellington and, eventually, the Duke of Wellington.
The painting was lent to the NPG in 2015 for an exhibition marking the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo. Before that, it had not been on public view for any significant time.