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The arts and Waterloo

This video instroduces some examples of 19th century art that commemorated or commented on Wellington or the battle of Waterloo.
KAREN ROBSON: Works of art and literature have shaped the memory of Waterloo. Both Wellington and Waterloo appeared in numerous artistic works. Wellington sat for endless paintings, many of which were engraved. As well as high art, he also appeared in numerous caricatures. He was instantly recognisable, quite an achievement in an era before photography. Waterloo was also depicted in numerous battle pictures and was painted by some of the great history painters of the period. Many were intended for public exhibition and appeared in contemporary engravings.
CHRIS WOOLGAR: A Waterloo chamber was to be created at Windsor Castle. This was one of the ambitions of the Prince Regent. Sir Thomas Lawrence was engaged to take portraits of the principal protagonists in the wars. It took longer for the work to come to fruition, however, and the chamber was not completed until the 1830s. But it was subsequently to be a venue for state events and occasions throughout Victoria’s reign. Here the country’s memory of Waterloo was made manifest. It was not only the British who portrayed Waterloo. Later on in the century, the battles of the Napoleonic period featured in French art. After the Franco-Prussian War, in particular, it became fashionable once again to celebrate France’s military glories.
And Waterloo and the honourable conduct of the French guards and other forces in the battle was an appropriate subject once again. There were statues and monuments to the battle and the participants across Europe. In London, plans for a national memorial went through various forms and eventually developed into the Marble Arch and the other arch, the Wellington Arch, that was sited in Green Park opposite Apsley House. There was a Scottish Waterloo monument, a tower, at Ancrum in the Borders. And in Phoenix Park in Dublin, there was a Wellington testimonial monument. In Hannover in the Waterlooplatz there was a Waterloo column.
KAREN ROBSON: Monumental art made use of classical themes, and the heroes of antiquity were used to serve 19th century purposes. Some of the finest sculptors of the period, including Flaxman, Westmacott, and Smirke were involved in the creation of triumphal arches and memorials. There were public competitions, and there also arose questions of decorum and taste of what makes an appropriate memorial. Nor was Waterloo neglected by poets and authors. On the one hand, there were direct literary tributes celebrating victory, including poems by the poet laureate Robert Southey, by Walter Scott, and by William Wordsworth.
CHRIS WOOLGAR: But not all thought that way, and Byron’s “Childe Harold”, for example, famously thought the battle was a disaster and dwelt on the death toll and the aftermath. The battle itself features in later narratives, such as Thackeray’s Vanity Fair. From soon after the end of the battle there were accounts published. Some of these were really substantial works of history, and the Duke of Wellington also contributed, but he contributed in a very special way. Through the 1830s, his letters and papers were published, edited in a massive edition by Lieutenant Colonel Gurwood. From reading the Duke’s own correspondence, people could acquire a blow-by-blow account of the campaign.

The victory at Waterloo was celebrated through the arts — especially painting and sculpture — and these works in turn have shaped our memory of the battle and its heroes.

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Wellington and the Battle of Waterloo

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