This imposing, life-size white marble bust represents the famous soldier and statesman Arthur, Duke of Wellington (1769–1852) dressed in the manner of an ancient Roman general. The artist Edward Hodges Baily carved the portrait for the wealthy collector Robert Vernon (1774/5–1849) as part of a series of notable historical figures, known as ‘worthies’, which included the politician George Canning (Tate N02247), the writers Samuel Johnson (National Portrait Gallery, London) and John Milton (untraced), and the scientist Sir Isaac Newton (National Portrait Gallery, London). These were presumably first displayed at Vernon’s mansion at 50 Pall Mall, London, although only the bust of Milton was noted by the journal Art Union when they reviewed Vernon’s collection in 1839 (Art Union, vol.1, 1839, p.19).
Edward Hodges Baily was a pupil of John Flaxman and was principally known and regarded for his neoclassicism, especially his poetic works, such as Eve Listening to the Voice (Victoria and Albert Museum, London). He was also an experienced portraitist, producing over 130 portrait busts in his career, and applied for numerous public commissions for portrait statues. In 1839 he won the commission to carve the statue of Admiral Lord Nelson for the top of the column in Trafalgar Square, the work for which he is best remembered.
Like the busts of Canning and Johnson, the Wellington bust was based upon an earlier portrait bust by the English sculptor Joseph Nollekens (1737–1823). Nollekens carved his work in 1813 and exhibited it at the Royal Academy that year. A signed and dated version (presumably the exhibited work) is at the Duke of Wellington’s residence at Apsley House in London, and numerous autograph replicas were made (examples are at Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire, Castle Howard in the East Riding of Yorkshire, and Sledmere House in the same county). Furthermore, it proved such a popular bust that many copies were made. The artist and diarist Joseph Farington recorded that Nollekens ‘complained much of the conduct of [Peter] Turnerelli, the sculptor, who, he said, had copied his bust of lord Wellington and now sold it as his own performance’ (Joseph Farington, ‘31 July 1813’, in K. Garlick and K. Cave (eds.), The Diary of Joseph Farington, New Haven 1978–84, vol.12, p.4408).
Baily has taken the features of the head from Nollekens, but has altered its disposition by raising the angle of the gaze slightly, and has changed the truncation. Nollekens’s bust has simple Roman drapery with a pin at the shoulder, suggesting Roman military nobility, but Baily has expanded the shoulders with extra drapery, has appended a collar at the back, added detailing in the form of a pleated undershirt, and placed a medal on a slight ribbon on the chest. The motif is a Napoleonic eagle, which Wellington adopted as a trophy of his victory over the French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte (a full size statue of the eagle was carried at Wellington’s funeral). Baily has taken the opportunity to introduce a range of depicted fabrics; not only the airy, voluminous folds of the classical drapery, but also a fur-lined collar on the reverse, suggested by wispy curls in shallow-relief. This contrasts with the crisp carving of the large folds, which in turn contrasts with the shallow pleats on the undershirt. In another display of virtuosity Baily has rendered a perfect ring through the collar at the right shoulder. The bust is noticeably more grandiose than Nollekens’s original, presumably attempting to reflect Wellington’s subsequent career. Since 1813, when the first bust was made, Wellington had led the victory over Napoleon and was, at the time that the bust seems to have been carved, Britain’s Prime Minister.
Emma Hardy, ‘Edward Hodges Baily’, in Ingrid Roscoe, Emma Hardy and M.G. Sullivan (eds.), Biographical Dictionary of Sculptors in Britain 1660–1851, New Haven and London 2009, http://188.8.131.52/henrymoore/index.php, accessed 18 September 2013.