Robert Thorburn, ARA HRSA (British, 1818-1885) Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, KG, GCB, GCH, PC, FRS (1769-1852), wearing blue coat, white waistcoat, chemise and stock

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Lot 127Y
Robert Thorburn, ARA HRSA
(British, 1818-1885)
Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, KG, GCB, GCH, PC, FRS (1769-1852), wearing blue coat, white waistcoat, chemise and stock

Sold for £ 5,625 (US$ 7,105) inc. premium
Robert Thorburn, ARA HRSA (British, 1818-1885)
Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, KG, GCB, GCH, PC, FRS (1769-1852), wearing blue coat, white waistcoat, chemise and stock.
Rectangular gilt-metal frame, gilt wood slip, suspended within red leather travelling case, lined with red velvet and embossed in gold to the obverse THE DUKE OF WELLINGTON/ THORBURN.
Oval, 140mm (5 1/2in) high


  • The present lot was reputedly commissioned by Angela Georgina, 1st Baroness Burdett-Coutts (1814–1906) who had fallen deeply in love with the legendary military hero and politician and is said to have offered a proposal of marriage to him when she was thirty-two years of age. The Duke, being forty-five years her senior, gently declined Angela's proposal, suggesting that whilst he could act as her 'Friend, Guardian, Protector', she would be foolish to continue her attentions towards 'a Man old enough to be [her] Grandfather, who, however strong, Hearty and Healthy at present, must and will certainly in time feel the consequences and Infirmities of Age' (Letter from Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington to Angela Burdett-Coutts, 8 February 1847).

    The present lot derives from an impressive group portrait on ivory, of ground-breaking dimensions (445 x 660mm), portraying the Duke with his grandchildren, Victoria, Henry, 3rd Duke of Wellington, Arthur and Mary Wellesley in the library at Stratfield Saye (V. Remington, Victorian Miniatures in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen, 2010, ill.p.1, fig.1). This larger miniature by Thorburn was commissioned by Angela in 1852 and remains one of the most notable works by the artist to have challenged the conventional dimensions, format and purpose of the portrait miniature - a result of recent technical innovations in cutting ivory from the cylindrical form of a tusk; a process which had been deemed restrictive until c.1840. The miniature was exhibited in the 'Victorian Exhibition' at the New Gallery (1891-2) and later realised £131/5s in the Burdett-Coutts sale at Christie's, London, on 4 May 1922 (lot 9).

    Amassing an extensive collection of portrait miniatures throughout her lifetime, Angela's earliest acquisitions were sourced from the Horace Walpole Strawberry Hill sale of 1842, where she purchased portraits by Peter Oliver, Jean Petitot and Richard Cosway. Furthermore, Angela is also known to have acquired twenty miniatures from the Bohn sale of 1885 in addition to six portrait miniatures that were at one time in the collection of George IV. As prolific a patroness as she was a collector, Angela commissioned a plethora of portrait miniatures from the masters of the day: her collection boasted works by Newton, Ross, Chalon and Guy. Notably, the collection was never allowed to assume the quasi-deified status attached by connoisseurs to artifacts displayed within the museum environment. Angela's correspondence rather reveals that her own approach to the handling and housing of her miniatures was more akin to a cabinet of curiosities: 'I left the miniature table in much confusion being unable to clear it up before leaving' (Letter from Angela Burdett-Coutts to Charles Osborne, 2 December 1892, BL 63097). The Burdett-Coutts collection was sold at Christie's on 4 May 1922.

    After the victory at Waterloo, the Duke of Wellington re-entered politics as a member of the Tory Party and in 1828 resigned his post as Commander-in-Chief of the British Army in order to take up the mantle of Prime Minister. Wellington's popularity suffered somewhat during his term in office, his implacable conservative policies earning him the nickname, 'The Iron Duke', whilst his London residence, Apsley House, was targeted by a mob enraged by his refusal to support the Reform Bill. He is perhaps best remembered for his championing of the Catholic Relief Act of 1829, which granted the majority of civil rights to British Catholics. Wellington's government was ousted in 1830 as a result of its demurral to advocate an expansion of the suffrage laws. Wellington was replaced as leader of the Tories by Sir Robert Peel, assuming instead the role of Foreign Secretary in Peel's first Cabinet. Wellington retired from politics altogether in 1846, having been re-appointed Commander-in-Chief in 1842. His final posts were of a more civilian nature: Chief Ranger and Keeper of Hyde and St James's Parks, respectively. Wellington died from a series of epileptic seizures resulting from a stroke at the age of eighty-three. He was given a State funeral and is buried alongside Admiral Lord Nelson in St Paul's Cathedral.
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