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Apsley House announces ‘Wellington, Women and Friendship’ exhibition to open in April 2022

18 Nov Apsley House announces ‘Wellington, Women and Friendship’ exhibition to open in April 2022

A new exhibition exploring the complex relationships between Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (1769-1852), and the women who were closest to him will open at Apsley House, London, in spring 2022.

Through letters, portraits and much more, on loan from public and private collections, Wellington, Women and Friendship will present 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 will present 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 will let 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.”