Exhibition explores the complex relationships between Arthur Wellesley and the women who were closest to him
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Exhibition explores the complex relationships between Arthur Wellesley and the women who were closest to him
Marianne Patterson, Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1818 © Stratfield Saye Preservation Trust.

LONDON.- Through letters, portraits and much more, on loan from public and private collections, Wellington, Women and Friendship presents an intimate picture of a very public life; revealing Wellington's social circle, his marriage and how his friendships with women could sometimes provoke rumour and gossip.

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.

In 1806, after returning from eight years of service with the British Army in India, Wellesley married Catherine Pakenham, whom he had known from his formative years in Ireland. It soon sadly became apparent that they were ill matched - not least because the couple had neither seen nor spoken to each other during his time overseas. Shortly after their marriage Wellington was off again, and this time they were separated for nearly five years. This was the form the pattern for the rest of their married life.

Over the years that followed the Duke gained a loyal circle of female friends who he regularly corresponded with.

Wellington, Women and Friendship presents around fifteen works including paintings, miniatures, drawings and previously unseen or published letters, even contemporary cartoons which gives us a window onto the world of celebrity gossip. Many of these portraits of the woman he corresponded with hung in his own home during his lifetime.
What exactly was the Duke’s relationship with all these women? This exhibition lets you make your own mind up, and on a facsimile 19th-century writing slope at the exit visitors will be asked to pen their thoughts and conclusions.

Josephine Oxley, Keeper of the Wellington Collection says “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 and tackle some of the difficult questions.”

Apsley House is a unique survival of an aristocratic townhouse in the centre of London. The house was purchased in 1817 by the 1st Duke of Wellington after his victory at Waterloo and became known as ‘Number 1 London’. The house reflects the style and taste of the 1820s when it was remodelled for Wellington by his architect Benjamin Dean Wyatt. Today the house holds an important collection of fine art, including paintings by Velazquez, Goya, Titian and Rubens alongside an outstanding display of porcelain and silver. Apsley House can be found at 149 Piccadilly, Hyde Park Corner, London, W1J 7NT and is open Wednesday-Sunday from April until mid-December.

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