Goya would produce several different portraits of the Duke of Wellington when he had travelled to Spain as part of a military operation. He even would amend one of the other portraits after the Duke received several notable medals that were awarded for a successful recent campaign. It was important that these new medals were included on his person, and so the artist agreed to add them to his adornments, as well as altering the colour of his clothing in line with a recent change in rank. The equestrian portrait in front of us here feels somewhat more natural, as if we have come across the Duke by chance, whilst he enjoys some hard earned leisure time. His clothing does not suggest he is in battle at this time, but merely stretching his horse across some flat land for a moment of relaxation.
Within the Baroque and Romanticist eras, portraits of figures on horseback were very common. It was a way of firstly demonstrating the role of the individual, perhaps as a military figure, and secondly it would communicate ideas to the viewer about their character. Normally it would indicate strength and confidence, depending on the size and posture of the horse. In some cases there would even be children on horseback, suggesting somehow unbelievably that they also could handle large horses at such a young age. One example of that would be Diego Velazquez's Portrait of Prince Balthasar Charles. Just as with Goya, Velazquez would serve in the Spanish court and so was often restricted in what and how he was allowed to paint, particularly when it came to members of the Royal family. The composition of this Goya painting, however, feels far more realistic, with the Duke of Wellington looking fairly comfortable and natural as he looks towards us from atop a strong but graceful horse.
This painting can now be found in Apsley House in Central London, where you will find artwork related to the life of The 1st Duke of Wellington. There are a number of other artworks from Spanish art that may also interest you, such as Pope Innocent X and The Waterseller of Seville by Diego Velazquez. Some of the items featured in the collection were actually claimed during some of his successful campaigns, whilst others were gifts from various international invites, including one to Russia. This small venue is a true gem in the artistic appeal of the city of London, and many have still not become aware of its impressive collection, no doubt distracted by some of the larger, higher profile art galleries and museums found elsewhere in the city.