The painting in front of us actually provides a record of the Duke's progress through a small part of his career. Between the years of 1812 and 1814 Goya would actually amend the initial work in order to display this figure's achievements on the battlefield. Goya would add the Order of the Golden Fleece and Military Gold Cross with three clasps onto this figure, recognising his recent awards. He had initially arrived in Madrid in 1812, at which point this painting would have been initiated. Goya himself already held a strong record for producing portraits of notable royal and military figures, perhaps tempting the Duke of Wellington to be included himself within a growing list of notable figures. In all, Goya would complete three different portraits of him (see also Equestrian Portrait of the 1st Duke of Wellington), and he is known to have been delighted with the finished artworks. The artist would have been well aware of the additional considerations when painting someone such as this, as they essentially represented national strength and pride, meaning the way in which they appeared on canvas should be handled with care and sensitivity.
The Duke of Wellington would have been in his early forties at the time of this painting, and perhaps is portrayed in an even more youthful appearance here than would have been the case in real life. His face, for example, is pretty much devoid of any sign of wrinkles, which is hard to imagine considering the challenging roles that he took on throughout his lifetime. He looks confidently at us, in the standard partly side-on style of portraiture. He is clean shaven and his hair simply styled but smart. The background is neutral and dark, allowing us to focus entirely on the subject, as well as providing contrast to the bright tones of his clothing. His bright red tunic is decorated with a large number of medals plus several other adornments. These bring a variety of colours to the palette that Goya would have to reproduce faithfully, and perhaps this is why he left much of the rest of the work so dark. A pink band with blue outline sweeps across his chest, and the composition cuts off just above his waist.
This important artwork clearly has great relevance to the history of the United Kingdom, making it highly appropriate that it remains within the collection of the National Gallery in London. Visitors to this exciting venue in the centre of the city can enjoy some of the finest art from the past few centuries across Europe, with a particular focus on British artists, naturally, as well as the best from other notable regions such as France, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands. Individual highlights to look out for include Mr and Mrs Andrews by Thomas Gainsborough, Sunflowers by Vincent van Gogh, The Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck and The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein. There are also regular exhibitions to be found here, drawing together specific artist's work from across the continent for a short period.