The countdown is on to source the £300,000 necessary to purchase an unfinished portrait of the Duke of Wellington for the United Kingdom.
London’s National Portrait Gallery has until the end of March 2017 to secure the balance of the £1.3 million price tag attached to the portrait painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence. It is being offered for sale by a private collector who purchased it at auction in 2013.
The gallery has already raised £1 million using its own funds together with a £350,000 donation from the Art Fund. Today the gallery launched a public appeal for donations to save the portrait, ‘one of just two world-class portraits of Wellington painted by Lawrence‘ for the nation.
‘Portrait of Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington’ is known as the Jersey portrait after its former owner Sarah Villiers, the Countess of Jersey. A friend and admirer of the Duke of Wellington, Lady Jersey commissioned the work a year after he became Prime Minister. There is even speculation that their relationship was a romantic one.
“Frankly, from what I know about Wellington and his love life, unless you can write it off, it is safer to assume he did sleep with whoever we are talking about” historian Andrew Roberts told The Guardian.
Painted by Lawrence in 1829 and depicting the Duke as a statesman in civilian dress the Jersey portrait remained unfinished at the time of the artist’s death in 1830. Lady Jersey could have had the artist’s studio complete the work but made the conscious decision not to.
According to National Portrait Gallery Director Dr Nicholas Cullinan, the unfinished nature of the painting only adds to the work’s impact on the viewer and its ‘psychological drama’. “You focus on the man himself rather than his accoutrements of success and power”, he said.
Currently, the gallery has no other significant depiction of the Duke, a popular icon of British military history. Cullinan says acquiring the portrait would fill a “crucial omission” in the gallery’s collection, which it has sought to remedy since its founding in 1856.