The Duke of Wellington by Goya

The Duke of Wellington by Goya

Who is the Duke of Wellington?

The man who beat Napoleon at Waterloo. Before that,  he fought Napoleon’s army in Spain, where he sat not very patiently for Goya once in Madrid.

There are many pentimenti (corrections). Tradition has it that they were imposed upon Goya by the Duke himself. “You’ve made my eyes too small,” he apparently told the artist. He was used to giving orders, no doubt, and not at all awed by one of the world’s great painters.


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20 Responses to The Duke of Wellington by Goya

  1. iom danu says:

    I’m not sure: did the Duke payed for his portrait? Usually, when they pay, they can impose on the portraitist some corrections… even to the great ones (they don’t know that those are great ones, at the time, usually… or don’t care, if nobility and such… Remember Velasquez fight to impose himself and his desire to get a nobleman title…)

    Apart that, how are you?

  2. 100swallows says:

    What do you do, Danu, when they tell you you’ve made their eyes too small? An oil painting can be corrected easily–but a water color, like the ones you do? I guess you have to paint another one.
    I don’t know if the Duke himself commissioned the portrait. I didn’t mean he was supposed to kneel in awe before Goya. Goya was probably easy to get along with but something tells me the Duke wasn’t much of an art lover and wouldn’t have been too curious about a man like Goya. I hope he wasn’t condescending.

  3. erikatakacs says:

    Think about this: the world’s greatest general at the time not being starstruck by the world’s greatest painter at the time. :) Maybe he was just an impatient model. Must have been very boring for a soldier to sit for hours at a time. Maybe he was a proud man, maybe not. I don’t know anything about his character.

  4. 100swallows says:

    The Duke wasn’t a friendly man, erikatakacs. He was famous for some ugly remarks, like calling his own soldiers “the scum of the earth”. He wasn’t humble but he didn’t have a heroic idea of himself as Napoleon had. He admitted that at Waterloo he had almost lost the battle (of course his was the tougher lot, having to make use of armies of foreign troops that didn’t even speak the same language).
    The responsibility of a man like that is hard to imagine. His daily agenda, even apart from battle strategy, was a mile long. His head was full of matters like protecting and feeding and supplying his troops (thousands of men). On top of that, he had to deal with his allies and the bigger political picture. His work days were eighteen hours long. Sleep? “When you [first] turn in your bed,” he used to say, “it’s time to turn out.” Sitting for Goya was the last thing he wanted to do with his time. He certainly paid no more attention to him than most men pay to a photographer somewhere.

    • Dick Bird says:

      Wellington did absolutely not call his soldiers ‘the scum of the earth’. That is a misquote. He was furious enough to write, in a private letter, that some of the soldiers in his army were the scum of the earth because they had got drunk and disgraced themselves after the Battle of Bayonne and run amok on the local population. Wellington had a thrown together army at Waterloo. Napoleon created but fumbled his chances. Wellington exploited them.

      • 100swallows says:

        Dick Bird: Thanks. I was so shocked by those words, by that way of talking about his soldiers, that I remembered it out of context. I know Wellington had to work with a very mixed army at Waterloo and elsewhere and it is to his great credit that he was able to use them effectively against Napoleon’s veterans.

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  6. erikatakacs says:

    I did some more reading on this portrait and found a bigger pictureof it. I’m not surprised Wellington wasn’t happy with it. He looks very plain, there’s not one feature on his face that would suggest power, talent or intelligence or anything of note. You just kinda think to yourself, is this really the man who defeated Napoleon, or Napolean defeated himself at Waterloo?
    There’s a story that Goya got so frustrated with Wellington’s remarks during one of the sittings, he actually grabbed a pistol and Wellington drew his sword! Goya ended up painting just his face, then used a model to finish his portrait.
    Thanks for bringing this to my attention.:)

  7. 100swallows says:

    erikatakacs: Goya was a passionate sort but he wasn’t Benvenuto Cellini. I don’t think even Cellini would have dared to pull a gun on the Duke. Nor would the Duke have drawn a sword. He would have ordered his soldiers to arrest Goya and throw him in prison. I don’t think there’s any record of Goya’s becoming violent like that.
    I agree he gave the Duke a pretty bland face. They always tell you Goya purposely made the whole royal family of Carlos IV look stupid but I can’t believe that. In his worst portraits Goya makes everyone, men and women, look like dolls.

  8. erikatakacs says:

    Yes, it’s highly unlikely. A Mrs. Havemeyer, who bought the Wellington portrait (I’m not sure which one) wrote this in her memoirs. I’d like to hear about Cellini…

  9. 100swallows says:

    Don’t you listen to me about Cellini, Erika. Go out and get his book–the Autobiography– and let Benvenuto tell you his own story. Then YOU tell ME what you think of him. I’d love to hear. He will interest you, a sculptor, twice as much as other readers.
    I’m going to look up Mrs. Havemeyer. Thanks for the tip.

  10. erikatakacs says:

    You made me curious, so I’ll read it. :) I found his autobiography online, can’t believe it!

  11. cantueso says:

    I also tried to read Cellini, and I might try again. He brags very much, and he tells stories that cannot be true. However, I simply left out everything and went straight to where he wants to cast his famous statue, his Perseus who killed the medusa. Doesn’t Cellini sound rather stupid? And yet, isn’t the Perseus a great statue?

  12. Rich says:

    Impressive portrait. Although without hands (is a portrait incomplete without?)
    What I’ve been wondering about, Swallows: These endless hours of posing, all the precious time Mr.Wellington sat for it. My question: all those medals – were they included? Would Mr.Wellington have sat for all this heavy metal as well?
    Or would kind of a mock up have sufficed; hung up on a chair?
    In other words: Was it just the live appearance of the head that was needed for this portrait? Did Mr.Wellington leave his coat including all the decor with Goya? Or did he take his coat?

    • 100swallows says:

      Rich: I don’t know if a portrait is incomplete without the hands but this one looks more like a head on a dummy than most. Such a dead torso. I guess it is supposed to suggest Wellington’s proud military bearing.
      You are certainly right that the medals were finished after the Duke was gone. Look: here is a sketch Goya made where the medals were just positioned but not drawn in. They are the same as the ones in the painting. The Duke really needn’t have left his coat with Goya, just the medals. There are only three silver ones, the Toisson (the golden fleece award that the Bourbon kings grant) and the one with the golden bars and cross (I don’t know it). Goya was used to painting medals on kings and generals.

      His grandson said Goya made the sketch in Wellington’s camp just after the Battle of Salamanca but I see Robert Hughes thinks that is unlikely because, on the one hand, it would have been hard for Goya to get to the front, and on the other, the Duke would have been too busy to sit for a portrait just then. It’s also hard to imagine that he would have had those medals around to put on, especially the Toisson, which must have been awarded later in a ceremony in Madrid.

  13. cantueso says:

    I have been floating around the net to see what was bing said about Goya, as, for instance, about his “descent into depravity”.

    This portrait is not typical of Goya, so why show it? Of all the great pictures there are.

    • 100swallows says:

      Cantueso: Oh, come on! Do I really have to justify my showing Goya’s portrait of the great English General? I’d gawk at it even if there weren’t a good story associated. And I wonder what you think is a typical Goya portrait. He painted hundreds and this one can be spotted as a Goya right off.
      The “descent into depravity” sounds like a misunderstanding of the man. Not that I understand him completely.

  14. AJL says:

    One comment on the above. Wellington was an extremely beloved general among his subordinates and his men – often not so popular among jealous equals and superiors in rank.

    The ‘scum of the earth’ comment followed a particularly brutal sack of a Spanish town taken by siege when the British troops concerned basically rioted and indulged in drunken raping and pillaging of the civilian (allied) population. Wellington was disgusted by them and the remark was made in this context.

    In fact Wellington was very popular with the enlisted men. In part because he won but also because he always took care to ensure they were well supplied.

    Wellington was of his time – and would seem a dinosaur to us now. But he felt for his men and especially grieved the many friends he lost in the Peninsula and at Waterloo. This portrait captures the man well – both the strength and the vulnerability.

    • 100swallows says:

      AJL: Thanks. As far as I know, there’s no documentation for any of the stories about what went on while Wellington sat for his portrait with Goya. There’s really no reason to read dislike into this portrait. I know the Duke was popular with his own troops but I wonder what Spaniards thought of him. Goya’s friends were afrancesados–men sympathetic to the Revolution and its liberal ideas. In any case, Goya, as a true artist, was outside of politics or ideology in his paintings. And he seems to have been able to keep even his aversion for his sitters, if he felt any, outside too. Art critics will tell you he made a fool out of Godoy in his portrait, and idiots of the royal family of Charles IV, but they themselves were apparently satisfied with the works.

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