GOYA Y LUCIENTES, Francisco de
(b. 1746, Fuendetodos, d. 1828, Bordeaux)

Portrait of the Duke of Wellington

Oil on panel, 64 x 52 cm
National Gallery, London

Wellington is the only Englishman, and one of very few foreigners, to have had their portraits painted by Goya. As victor of the Battle of Salamanca, the Earl of Wellington and Lieutenant-General, as he then was, had liberated Madrid from the French, entering the city in August 1812, when he sat for Goya. He is shown with the decorations of three Orders, the Bath (topmost star), the Tower and Sword of Portugal (lower left), and San Fernando of Spain (lower right). The insignia of the Golden Fleece was probably added to the costume later in the month, and the uniform altered to an approximation of Wellington's dress uniform as general. Originally he had been painted wearing the oval Peninsular Medallion; Goya retouched the portrait two years later, when Wellington returned as ambassador to the restored King Ferdinand VII and the medallion had been replaced by the Military Gold Cross.

Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington, 43 when the portrait was made and greying at the temples, looks out from above his medals with an alert and good-humoured air. Goya often gave his sitters an animated expression by showing them with their mouths slightly open; even the Queen of Spain, María Luisa, shows her teeth in a famous group portrait of 1800 - an unthinkable breach of etiquette in any earlier age. Here, the duke's short upper lip is drawn up over two large English front teeth, a 'speaking likeness'. He is unlikely to have been speaking to Goya, who was totally deaf as a result of an illness in 1792 and could communicate only in sign language and by writing.

'He painted only in one session, sometimes of ten hours, but never in the [late] afternoon. The last touches for the better effect of a picture he gave at night, by artificial light', wrote Goya's son, Francisco Javier, in his biography of the artist. The liveliness of this portrait suggests it is painted from life (although it is doubtful that 'Senor Willington', as Goya called him, sat for the full ten hours). The glitter of the decorations, so much bolder than the highlights on the flesh or the catchlights in the eyes, equally suggests that they may have been touched up at night. We know that both uniform and decorations were altered by Goya after the first sitting.

There are two known portraits in oils of Wellington by Goya, one large equestrian portrait (Apsley House, London) and this bust as well as two drawings. A third painting of Wellington with hat and cloak (National Gallery of Art, Washington) is no longer considered to be by Goya. All are related, but the order of their execution and their precise interrelations are difficult to determine. It has been suggested that the drawings may have been made in preparation for an etching that was never executed. The British Museum drawing, in which the head most closely resembles the head in the paintings, may, however, have served as a study for these. An inscription on this drawing says that it was a study for the equestrian portrait and an accompanying note (said to be in the hand either of Goya's grandson or of his friend Carderera), that it was made at Alba de Tormes after the Battle of Arápiles (i.e. Salamanca). The battle was fought on 22 July 1812 and Wellington was at Alba de Tormes on the following day, but it is unlikely that he was able to sit to Goya before he entered Madrid on 12 August. The equestrian portrait, the only one for which documents exist, must have been painted between 12 August and 2 September, when it was to be exhibited in the Academy of San Fernando.

The National Gallery painting was probably painted before he left Madrid on 1 September 1812, at the same time as the equestrian composition, when Wellington was still Earl of Wellington and Lieutenant-General. Of the two paintings, the head in the National Gallery version is the most animated and the most likely to have been taken from life. It is also the only one that represents Wellington in full military costume and the most ceremonial in appearance. Some of the decorations that he wears were received after he left Madrid in 1812 and the alterations that are visible in the painting may have been made in May 1814, when Wellington returned there as Ambassador to Ferdinand VII.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.