Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Duke of Wellington's London Home

Designed by Robert Adams and built between 1771 and 1778 for Baron Apsley, Apsley House has the address #1 London because it was the first house visitors saw after they passed the toll booth on the London Road.

The house came into the Wellesley family through the Duke of Wellington’s elder brother Richard, Lord Mornington, First Earl Wellesley. You will see his portrait as you tour through the house. 

In 1817 Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington purchased it. It needed to be expanded to express his increasing importance, the 90 foot Waterloo Gallery was added at this time. In 1947 the house was gifted to the nation.

We took an audio tour of the house. One thing I really liked here was that there were some places to sit down while we were listening to the narrative.

The first room we entered was filled with gifts that the Duke of Wellington had received from the European heads of state to celebrate his victory at Waterloo. In the Plate and China Room is a case that holds both his sword and the sword of Napoleon. The room also displays the Egyptian Service which was made for Josephine and was presented to the Duke in 1818 by King Louis XVIII. It is a really splendid Sevres service with the table centerpiece made to resemble the Temple at Karnak.

Beyond just enjoying his house what we learn about here is Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington. He was born in Ireland in 1769, ironically the same year as Napoleon was born. He fell in love with Kitty Pakenham when he was 22 and she was 20. Her father, Baron Longford, refused to allow them to be married because Arthur was in debt. 

Fifteen years later they were married but by this time there was no love involved and it was not a happy union. She suffered from depression and some thought her simple minded, certainly not the ideal mate for the Iron Duke.

As you approach the staircase you will be greeted by a colossal statue of a very naked Napoleon by Canova. Commissioned by Napoleon and rejected by him as too athletic it is a magnificent piece. It is the perfect introduction to what awaits on the second floor. At the top of the stairs are two full length portraits one of Wellington one of Napoleon with an malachite table, a gift from Tsar Alexander in between.

The Piccadilly Room houses an extensive collection of Dutch paintings from the likes of Maes, de Hooch, Brueghel and Steen. The Waterloo Gallery is amazing, crimson walls and paintings by Rubens, Corregio and Goya. It is a very impressive room. In Wellington’s time the walls were yellow with mirrors that slide to cover the windows and reflect the candlelight, it would have been an even more impressive sight.

Entrance is free to members of English Heritage.

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