The Duke’s Famous Commission
Chelsea Pensioners Reading the Waterloo Dispatch
In scrolling through images of the Regency era, I’ve come across this painting before. But I never stopped to give it a closer look until a recent article about it.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal, (sorry but there’s probably a paywall for this link), Christopher J. Scalia discusses this famous painting commissioned by the Duke of Wellington himself at a cost of 1200 guineas.
The duke chose Scottish painter, David Wilkie, who was famous for his paintings of scenes of every life, “genre” paintings. Scalia quotes Wilkie as saying the duke wanted “a number of soldiers of various descriptions seated upon the benches of the door of a public house, with porter and tobacco, talking over their old stories.”
Take a close look at the painting’s diverse subjects–pensioners, perhaps soldiers on half-pay or active duty, women, a baby, a dog, people peering out windows, all anxiously listening to the news from Waterloo. Those were interesting choices for the Duke of Wellington.
The painting was an instant hit when it was displayed at the Royal Academy in 1822. Though it was seven years after Waterloo, I imagine the British public had not forgotten the hardships of the twenty years of war preceding that battle. Perhaps the duke, in his own way, was acknowledging those hardships.
Images are from Wikimedia Commons.