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An interesting Ink Sketch of the Waterloo Shield

The Wellington Shield sketch c. 1835

A curious ink sketch of the fabulous ’Wellington Shield’ has a story to tell.
Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (1769-1852) was the hero of the moment when he led the British & Allies to victory over the French at Waterloo in 1815. It had been 23 years of constant fighting with the neighbours – namely Napoleon’s France – and finally, there was the reality of a genuine peace. The National was truely grateful.

Duke of Wellington, early 19th Century portrait @ Moorabool Antiques, Australia
The Duke of Wellington, early 19th Century portrait @ Moorabool Antiques, Australia
The Silver-Gilt Wellington Shield, Designed by Thomas Stothard, made by Silversmiths Green, Ward & Green, and presented to Wellington in 1821 by the Merchants and Bankers of the City of London.

The Wellington Shield is a magnificent creation, paid for by The Merchants and Bankers of London as a token of thanks for keeping Britain free of Napoleon – and the essential trade networks flowing. Commissioned in 1817, it was presented in 1821. Now in pride of place amongst all Wellington’s treasures at his London home, Aspley House, No. 1 London Road (also a ‘Present’ from the grateful people!), it was lauded as the most spectacular silver charger ever made at the time. Inspired by the description of Achille’s shield in the Iliad, it shows Wellington being crowned by a winged Nike ‘Victory’ figure, surrounded by his loyal troops, and surrounded by ten detailed panels showing scenes from his career. Large and highly-detailed, it was examined, described, and replicated in publications across the British Empire. It was put on show every year at the annual ‘Waterloo Banquets’ held at Apsley House until Wellington’s death in 1852.

The shield can now be seen in Aspley House, part of the Wellington Museum, No1 London Road. Photo source: WikiCommons

We recently came across an interesting hand-drawn ink sketch of the Shield. Part of an anonymous sketchbook, the other side bears an image of two Indian soldiers, and a camel resting alongside a rifle. Other works in the album had European views, portraits of notables, and quite a few images of ports in Europe.
How do we interpret this all?

The reverse of the sketch bears these interesting studies.

Dating to the earlier 19th century, I believe it is the sketchbook of someone who really wanted to travel – but perhaps didn’t even set foot in the exotic locations depicted. It may well have been a young lady (there were some flower studies, always popular with young lady artists), who had the ‘wanderlust‘ to see the exotic sights that these images portray – but she could well have done it all during her idle time in the ‘drawing room’ of her family home, thanks to the array of newspapers and magazines that came readily available as the 19th century progressed.

This theory comes from the discovery of the source of this piece, and also from a clue that both images share: a very faint black smudging along the edges of all figures.

The Source

The Saturday Magazine March 1 1834- The Wellington Shield
The Saturday Magazine March 1 , 1834
Left – image from the ‘Saturday Magazine’, March 1st 1834
Right – the sketch being discussed, desaturated for comparison.

This is the fine woodblock engraving which illustrated an article on the shield in the ‘Saturday Magazine‘, published March 1st, 1834. This was a small, illustrated magazine that was sold for one penny, ‘Under direction of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge‘ – although it’s contents are of social / scientific / political nature, not religious.

The publisher was John Parker (1791-1870). His father was in the Royal Navy, and Parker served his apprenticeship at a London printer, which he ended up managing. From 1829, he became the director of the Cambridge University Press – and the appointed publisher for the Christian Knowledge Society, for which the magazine was published. While he printed bibles, apparently when Parker introduced ‘steam power’ for the presses, the ‘Christian Knowledge Society’ revisited the technology!

This illustration of the shield accompanied a long article waxing lyrical about the shield and how it came to be:

“…..the Duke of Wellington, England’s great General …. had finally planted the triumphant standard of our country on the soil of France itself. ……. honours were heaped on him from all sides, and men taxed their ingenuity to devise modes in which they might best mark their gratitude to him.
To this feeling, so universally displayed, is to be attributed the production of the Wellington Shield, one of the most magnificent works of art ever executed in the precious metals. “

The Wellington Shield - source 1834
The Wellington Shield – source in The Saturday Magazine, 1st March 1834

It is, however, reversed. How could this happen? The clue is the fuzzy, ‘bleeding’ nature of the principal outlines evident in the sketchbook, even on other pages.

Nike - The Wellington Shield - circa 1835
Note the ‘bleeding’ to the dark outlines

This is evidence of the technique used: a primitive transfer, where the artist has used an ink to carefully trace the main features in the print, then placed the blank paper onto the still-wet ink. After some pressure, probably in a book press, the image would be transferred – somewhat fuzzy, and needing the secondary touch-ups and washes of solid colour to create the image as presented. As part of the process, the image appears in reverse – and tends to bleed.

The Saturday Magazine March 1 1834- The Wellington Shield - circa 1835
Left: Thomas Stothard’s 1820 very accurate engraving of the shield.
Center: woodblock from the 1834 ‘Saturday Magazine’
Right: the same detail in the ink sketch, reversed.

The differences between these details reveal the ink sketch is not copied from Stothard’s version, but is identical to the ‘Saturday Magazine’ version. The give-away is the bow beneath the laurel wreath – while it is complete with two loops on Strothard’s depiction, the Magazine has unravelled the loop, leaving it out on one side – and the artist of the ink sketch has followed this mistake.

left: Magazine, 1834. right: Ink sketch

This is a fascinating depiction of a historical artefact, from the time when Antiquity was the inspiration for heroic representation. The artist has used an interesting technique to replicate their own version in reverse – and the result is not unlike an ‘Old Master’ pen & wash drawing from a much earlier period.

left: Magazine, 1834. right: Ink sketch

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