Piccadilly, Green Park and the Haymarket
Medals, decorations, C.C.L.B 33 of Berlin porcelain, gorgeous and hollow g,° 7 Thcn. n thJ of the staircase, ridicukxu, superb, suddenly Napoleon, U but sork naked and eleven feet high in white marble, capuve in the embrace of the white and gold winding stair. It fa one of Canova largest works, rejected (according to the story) by its subjcct in imperial pique became the little gilt figure of Victory is ptwed on his palm auay from him, as if about to quit subsequently it was bought by the Princc Regent for Wellington with whom in fact Victory in 1815 had lodged.
Upstaira, the display of Wellingtoniana continues; the painted effigies of five kings and two emperors congregate in homage to him (note especially, two remarkable whole lengths by Wilkie, the successor to Lawrence, of George IV (kilted) and a splendid bravura painting of William IV, perhaps the last flash of grandeur in the tradition of English statc portraiture). The pageant of the Duke’s immense, sumptuous funeral unrolls on a coloured strip engraving. In the deep red Waterloo Gallery, where he held reunion banquets of his veterans, a mahogany table as big as a cricket pitch on a playing field of Eton, between two giant candelabra in mauve Siberian porphyry; disporting about its arena is the Waterloo service like a display of eurythmics in silver and gilt, made for the Duke in Portugal. But some rooms on this floor are smaller, and retain a flavour of domesticity (if that word can be used of the Duke); they retain also above all pictures. More portraits, a whole suite of studies by Piencmann of Waterloo heroes; the Duke’s own collection, evidence of the contemporary taste, much fostered by George IV, for small Dutch seventeenth ccntury paintings some boisterous Jan Steens, a very beautiful romantic Pieter dc Hoochthat master of the escape route music from the little group in the foreground of the room echoes back through a soft glowing of reflected and refracted light, to the open window behind and the cool evening in dark trees. There are many others, and also the famous Wilkie genre scene of the Chelsea Pensioners (for whom, see p.203) reading the news of Waterloo. But the clam of the collection is loot the paintings which Napoleon’s brother Joseph, King of Spain, had “won” from the Spaniards, only to lose them with his baggage train to Wellington after the Battle of Vitoria in 1813. The Duke, correct as ever, was stopped from returning the pictures to Spain by a message from the restored
King Ferdinand; the latter expired himself touchcd by the Duke’s delicacy, but unwilling to deprive him of “that which had come into his possession by means as just as they are honourable. So it is that the house of the soldier holds ooeofthe noblest collections in Encland; Spain is better represented here than anywhere but in the National Gallery; Ribera, Murillo (especially the extra ordinary and Rcmbrandtaque “Isaac Blessing Jacob”), and above all Velasques. There are too, a row of Teniers; tome fine Italian pictures, a Sassofcrrato, and a magnificent little Correggio of Christ, luminous in agony, on the dark mountain picture to which the Duke is said lo have been especially attached, unlocking its glass from time to time, and dusting it with a silk handkerchief. But the three Velasquez will be for most people the great reward of the house, and amongst them perhaps most of all, the early “Water carrier of Seville,” in its monumental and lucent stillness.
Then there is, fidssim, the Duke himself the Lawrence of 1814, In which he seems, hanging to politely over the fireplace, already rejuvenated for posterity, glossy, the flesh well fitting and sleek as his red coat (compare the inusculous thrust of his jaw in Chan trey’s bust of him); the big Goya Equestrian, disappointing now as in time the horse hat “sunk” into the canvas and the Duke has a macabre clownish air of Carnival (it was painted too fast, inside a monlh in 181 a, as a topicality for exhibition, and Goya’s real ad urn impression, unless the painting stolen from the National Gallery should return, is perhaps the drawing in the British Museum). But all the portraits of the Duke do not summon up his ghost (he would not have consented to anything so incorrect as a ghost), though they do, as it were, posit his absence. We miss him Mill, that figure of straight rectitude so firmly upright in honour even when wrong, and God knows he was a formidable reactionary.