Watercolor on ivory in a gilt wood frame
Framed: 22 x 18.2 cm (8 11/16 x 7 3/16 in.); Unframed: 18.7 x 14 cm (7 3/8 x 5 1/2 in.)
The Edward B. Greene Collection 1942.1154
This miniature remains in its original gilt metal mat and at over 7 inches tall is part of a trend to expand miniatures in the early 1800s.
John Wright was an engraver and miniaturist active primarily in London who exhibited at the Royal Academy between 1795 and 1819. He painted miniatures in ivory on the traditional small, oval surfaces as well as the rectangular format that became increasingly popular during the 1790s. Wright’s style is painterly, and he employed gouache to create saturated brushstrokes that suggest oil painting. Yellow tones predominate in the faces of his portraits. His miniatures are often signed and dated on the reverse and sometimes inscribed with his address.
In this miniature Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (1769–1852), is depicted at three-quarter length, with his body facing forward and his head slightly to the right. In his right, buff-gloved hand he holds a black cocked hat with red and gold tassels; his left hand rests on the hilt of a sword. A five o’clock shadow is visible on the famously hirsute soldier, who has gray-blue eyes, bow lips, and powdered dark hair. Wellesley wears the uniform of a major-general (the rank he attained in 1802), which consists of a red coat with a dark blue collar and cuffs—trimmed with gold braid—and epaulets. He wears white breeches, and from his right shoulder, a pale rose sash extends across his chest, on which he wears the star of the Order of the Bath. A rose-colored sash is also wrapped around his waist and is knotted at his right hip. The background features a blue and gray cloudy sky without a visible horizon line.
This portrait was completed during the height of Wellesley’s career as one of the most famous and frequently painted soldiers in the history of Britain. The year 1806 was significant for Wellesley; it was the year he finally married Catherine (Kitty) Pakenham (1773–1831), whose hand he had been denied in 1793 on the grounds that he was deeply in debt and undistinguished. After nine years of military service in India, he returned in 1805 a decorated, highly esteemed, and wealthy solider to whom Pakenham’s family could no longer object. In 1806 he was also appointed Chief Secretary of Ireland. He had received the Order of the Bath in 1804 and in this portrait wears the insignia, here consisting of a sash and an eight-pointed silver star that features three crowns at the center encircled by a red ring bearing the motto of the order in gold letters.
The miniature is based on an oil painting by John Hoppner executed in 1806 and exhibited at the Royal Academy. The original painting represents Wellesley full length and life sized, standing in an Indian landscape, his horse held by an Indian servant. The circumstances of this commission are unknown, but because Wellesley himself was fonder of frank, intimate portraits that did not dramatically depict him in the trappings of uniform and awards, it is unlikely that he commissioned this work himself.
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