This equestrian statuette was made by Alfred, Count D’Orsay for reproduction in bronze in 1845. In March that year D’Orsay recorded that the Duke declared it to be ‘the finest thing he has ever seen and the only portrait by which he would wish to be known to posterity.’ The artist was later commissioned to produce a Parian marble bust of the Duke (likewise planned for mass production) and an oil portrait of him, of which at least three versions exist including one in the British Embassy in Paris.
According to the inscription on the base, this statuette was a gift from the Duke to Lady Mary Catherine, Marchioness of Salisbury, the second wife of the Third Marquess of Salisbury (Prime Minister 1885-86). A close confidant of Wellington, Mary Catherine was one of a number of younger women friends whose company the Duke enjoyed in his old age. Well over 50 years younger than the Duke, she was often seen walking arm in arm with him in St James’s Park. The date that the Duke gave Mary the statuette – 18 June 1852 – suggests he may have intended it to be a vestige of himself. Within three months he had died.
Alfred, Count d’Orsay, dandy and amateur artist, was born in Paris, the son of one of Napoleon’s generals. He met Lord and Lady Blessington in 1822 and was romantically interested in Lady Blessington. Perhaps to divert D’Orsay’s attention from his wife, Lord Blessington wrote a will leaving his Irish property to one of his daughters, should either marry Count D’Orsay. D’Orsay chose 15 year old Lady Harriet Anne Gardiner and the couple married in Naples in 1827. It was not a happy union. Following the death of Lord Blessington and the breakdown of the Count’s marriage, D’Orsay and Lady Blessington became a prominent couple in fashionable society. D’Orsay died in Paris in 1852, having fled there with Lady Blessington to escape his debts.
Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (1769-1852) Field-Marshal & Prime Minister
Bronze equestrian statuette
height: 46.00 cm, width: 38.00 cm
Purchased from the Christopher Wood Gallery, January 1987
on front: Presented to Lady Mary Catherine, Marchioness of Salisbury, on the 18th June, 1852 by Field Marshal, Arthur, Duke of Wellington
Collection of army officer and Prime Minister Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (1769-1852); by whom presented to Lady Mary Catherine, Marchioness of Salisbury, of Hatfield House, Hertfordshire, on 18 June 1852; with Christopher Wood Gallery, London; from whom purchased by the Government Art Collection in January 1987
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