Wellington, Women & Friendship

Explore the man behind the public figure as the Wellington Collection launches its new exhibition, Wellington, Women & Friendship. Peter Gray reports,.

-London's Best Events-

The Wellington Collection’s blockbuster new exhibition, Wellington, Women & Friendship, will open at Apsley House on the 1st of April 2022.

The show, which will run until October 2022, will explore the complex relationships between the Duke (real name Arthur Wellesley) and the women closest to him.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Using letters, portraits and much more, Wellington, Women & Friendship will go behind the scenes of the iconic Duke’s very public life to reveal the man behind the legend, as well as the people who knew him best. The exhibition will explore Wellesley’s social circle, his marriage, and how his friendships with women could sometimes provoke rumour and gossip.

At the centre of the exhibition will be Wellington’s relationship with his wife, Catherine Pakenham. The Duke married Pakenham in 1806, shortly after returning from eight years of service with the British Army in India. Although he had known her since his formative years in Ireland, however, it soon became apparent that the couple were ill matched.

Catherine Pakenham – The 1st Duchess Wellington
!st Duchess of Wellington by Sir Thomas Lawrence

For one thing, the pair had not seen or spoken to each other during Wellington’s time overseas. For another, Wellesley was soon to embark on another long overseas trip following his marriage. The couple would not see each other for another five years. The pattern had been set.

The Hero of Waterloo

The other major problem was the attention that Wellesley increasingly attracted from women. As the hero of Waterloo, Wellesley was the toast of the nation and many treated him as a kind of God. The press release for the exhibition says:

“From the moment he secured victory at the battle of Waterloo in June 1815, Wellesley’s legendary status was assured. He was not only a military hero but also a hugely influential figure in the high society of his day. As Sir Thomas Lawrence’s portraits attest, with his high cheekbones, aquiline nose and piercing blue eyes, the Duke was often the centre of female attention.”

 

 
 
 
 
 
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This female attention would come at a price, however. The Keeper of the Wellington Collection, Josephine Oxey says of the Duke’s relationships with women: “Wellington was a very private person, but after Waterloo he was of interest to everyone in society and he quickly became aware of the growing chatter about his female companions. It was well known that his marriage was not a happy one, but what was the truth behind all those other friendships? This exhibition will bring a new perspective on Wellington’s very private life”

Wellington, Women and Friendship will explore this fascinating subject using a series of paintings, miniatures, drawings and previously unseen or published letters.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A series of portraits will reveal some of the many women in Wellington’s life. Strangely, many of these portraits hung for many years in the Duke’s own home! What exactly was the Duke’s relationship with all these women? This exhibition will let you make your own mind up.

Apsley House

The exhibition will take place at Apsley House – the Duke’s famous townhouse in the centre of London. Once known as No1 London, the building is one of the most famous addresses in the capital.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Wellesley purchased Apsley House in 1817, shortly after his victory at Waterloo. Once he had completed the purchase, Wellesley began redecorating the venue – keen to ensure that the interiors were in keeping with his position as the nation’s foremost military hero.

The Duke enlisted the architect Benjamin Dean Wyatt, and it is he we have to thank for the house’s wonderfully stylish Regency interiors. Apsley House is a treasure trove of priceless furniture and works of art, too, with paintings by Velazquez, Goya, Titian, and Rubens amongst others.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Wellington, Women & Friendship will be at Apsley House from the 1st of April until the 30th of October 2022. More information about the exhibition can be found here.

For information on other great exhibitions in London, please click here.

 

   

-London's Best Events-
What: exhibition
When: 1 Apr - 30 Oct 22
Where: Apsley House
Website: Apsley House