Chelsea Pensioners Reading the Waterloo Dispatch

David Wilke’s famous painting, Chelsea Pensioners Reading the Waterloo Dispatch, was commissioned by the Duke of Wellington and completed in 1822, when it was shown at the Royal Academy and was so popular that railings had to be put up to protect it. The painting celebrated the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the Duke asked Wilkie for a picture of old soldiers outside a public house. It was Wilkie who chose the Royal Hospital at Chelsea as a setting. Nothing could have been more fitting – by 1815 there were more than 30,000 Chelsea pensioners, soldiers who were discharged as unfit for further duty because of injury. Most received cash payments and did not live at Chelsea. Many had served with the Duke of Wellington, whose body lay in state in 1852 in the Great Hall of the Royal Hospital Chelsea.

As the Royal Hospital Chelsea website says: There are few institutions in the United Kingdom with an unbroken three centuries of service and none of them is so close to the heart of the nation as “The Men in Scarlet”, the Chelsea Pensioners, and their home, the Royal Hospital Chelsea. Founded in 1682 by King Charles II and intended for the ‘succour and relief of veterans broken by age and war’, the Royal Hospital, with its Grade 1 listed buildings, still serves its original purpose and intends to continue to further its role well into the 21st Century.

The painting still hangs at Apsley House and is on public display.

Duchess of Devonshire Stolen!

Thomas Gainsborough’s painting, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire was auctioned in London, England, nearly 100 years after it disappeared into obscurity. The portrait of Georgiana Spencer, an ancestor of Princess Diana, sold for 10,000 guineas, the highest price ever paid for a work of art up until that time.

However, the auction price it fetched is not the portrait’s greatest claim to fame. The portrait was painted circa 1785 as a whole length portrait by Thomas Gainsborough (1728-1788) and titled Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. In the 1830’s, its owner, an elderly schoolmistress named Miss Anne Maginnis, cut it down to fit over her fireplace. In 1841 she sold it to a picture dealer, John Bentley, for 56 pounds, who later gave it to his friend the collector Wynn Ellis. Ellis died in 1875 and part of his collection went for sale at Christie’s. It was bought by William Agnew, the Bond Street dealer, for 10,000 guineas.

On May 26, 1876, the picture was cut from its stretcher during the night and stolen by an international crook, Adam Worth, alias Harry Raymond. Adam Worth, whom Scotland Yard later called the “Napoleon of Crime,” and upon whom Sir Arthur Conan Doyle eventually based Sherlock Holmes’ arch nemesis Dr. Moriarty, stole the artwork in order to come up with the bail to release his brother from jail. However, his brother was freed without his help, so Worth decided to keep the painting, even in the face of serious consequences.

The painting as it appears at Chatsworth

Adam Worth was perhaps the 19th century’s most masterful criminal. Born in Germany but raised in the United States, Worth joined the Union Army in the Civil War. After erroneously being reported killed in the Second Battle of Bull Run, he spent the rest of the war hopping from one regiment to another, collecting money to join and then immediately deserting. After the war, he made his way to New York, where he joined a gang of pickpockets.

A conviction for robbery resulted in a three-year sentence at Sing Sing Prison. However, Worth escaped after only a few weeks and vowed to be more careful in the future. Using the alias Henry Raymond, Worth took up a lucrative career robbing banks before moving his criminal exploits to Europe. With perfectly planned heists and a consistent forgery operation, Worth avoided all violent encounters and established himself in respectable society.

        Keira Knightley starring as Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire in the 2008 film The Duchess

Yet the theft of the Duchess of Devonshire led to his eventual downfall. His co-conspirators, Joe Elliot and Junka Phillips, were angered by the fact that they weren’t financially rewarded for stealing the valuable painting. When Worth refused to divulge its whereabouts, Elliot and Phillips went to the police and Worth was sent to prison, albeit on other charges. Following his release four years later in 1897, Worth returned to America. After a change of heart, he began negotiations with the Pinkerton Detective Agency for the ransom of the painting.

The film was based on the 1998 biography by Amanda Foreman.

The Duchess of Devonshire was finally returned to England in 1901. J. P. Morgan, Wall Street’s biggest financier, promptly made the journey to obtain the painting for himself. He purportedly paid as much as $150,000 for it. Worth, who had received relatively little for his ransom, died a year later, penniless.

The picture remained in Morgan’s family until on July 13, 1994, when the Chatsworth House Trust in the U.K. bought the portrait at Sotheby’s. By a strange and winding path, the Gainsborough portrait ended up where it had always belonged — at Chatsworth.

The London and Waterloo Tour – Victoria and Albert: Art in Love at the Queen's Gallery

Victoria and I are looking forward to the Victoria and Albert: Art in Love exhibit at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace. The Exhibition features 400 items from The Royal Collection including gifts exchanged by Victoria and Albert such as drawings, paintings, sculpture, furniture, musical scores and jewellery and encompasses their mutual love of music and art. The display also touches upon Prince Albert’s work on ‘The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations in 1851’ as well Queen Victoria in the years after Albert’s death in 1861.

Works by the couple’s favorite artist, Franz Xaver Winterhalter, are on display, as are photographs taken of the Royal couple. A German painter first recommended to Queen Victoria by Louise, Queen of the Belgians, Winterhalter came to England in 1842 and subsequently worked regularly for the queen and her family over the next two decades. Winterhalter was granted the largest number of royal commissions and produced numerous formal portraits, including the one pictured above, which Queen Victoria commissioned in 1843 as a surprise for her husband’s 24th birthday. The artist presents the Queen in an intimate pose, leaning against a red cushion with her hair half unravelled from its fashionable knot.

Winterhalter (at left) was born in the Grand Duchy of Baden in 1805. He excelled at painting and drawing as a teen and went to Munich where he studied at the Academy of Arts. By the late 1830’s he drew attention as a painter of royal subjects. He traveled and painted in almost every court of Europe until the last few years of his life. Though art critics were never very enthusiastic about his work, his portraits were well executed and conveniently flattering.

Costumes are also displayed in the exhibit, including Queen Victoria’s costume for the 1851 Stuart Ball  designed by French artist Eugène Lami. The French silk gown is rich in lace and brocade.
You can take a really in-depth video tour of the exhibition here and/or visit the Royal Collection website.

Winterhalter’s The First of May 1851, at right,  shows the Duke of Wellington presenting a casket to his one-year-old godson, Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught, who is supported by Queen Victoria. Behind these figures and forming the apex of a pyramidal composition is Prince Albert, half looking over his shoulder towards the Crystal Palace in the left background. Both the Duke of Wellington and Prince Albert are dressed in the uniform of Field Marshal and wear the Order of the Garter. The painting derives its title from the fact that both the Duke of Wellington and Prince Arthur were born on 1 May, which was also the date of the inauguration of the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park.

 The painting was commissioned by Queen Victoria, but Winterhalter clearly encountered some difficulties in devising an appropriate composition. In the queen’s words, he ‘did not seem to know how to carry it out’ and it was Prince Albert ‘with his wonderful knowledge and taste’ who gave Winterhalter the idea of using a casket, instead of the gold cup the Duke had actually presented to the child. The painting hangs at the Duke’s country home, Stratfield Saye.

Above, Victoria and Albert with their children in 1846, Buckingham Palace

JO MANNING to present talk at Dr. Johnson’s House, London May 20th

“When a man is tired of London . . . “
Jo Manning, author of My Lady Scandalous, Seducing Mr. Heywood, The Sicilian Amulet and other novels will be speaking at Dr. Johnson’s House, London. The topic of Jo’s talk will be Artists and Their Models: A Personal Insight Into Three Georgian Artists and Their Favorite Female Sitters and will include a personal look at three prominent Georgian artists – Sir Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough, and George Romney – and what Jo Manning imagines their relationships were with several of their female sitters.
Jo asks, “Have you ever wondered, when you looked at a particularly beautiful portrait, what the dynamics were between the artist and his/her sitter? While researching the world of Grace Dalrymple Elliott for my biography, My Lady Scandalous, I delved deeply into the Georgian art scene and came to some interesting conclusions about three particular artists and their favorite models, all of them women who happened to be courtesans. These portraits are not only beautiful works of art by gifted artists; I believe they tell a fascinating story about the relationship of each of these men to his model(s) and thus serve to enrich our viewing pleasure.”
Dr. Johnson’s House is one of the few residential houses from the period still surviving in the City of London. Built in 1700, the house has now been restored to its original condition, with a collection of period furniture, prints and portraits. Situated to the north of Fleet Street, the house is found among a maze of courtyards and passages that are a reminder of historic London. If you’re going to be in London on May 20th, I urge you to attend. If Jo’s other seminars are anything to go by, this talk will be a pip!