'The Meeting of Wellington and Blücher' by Daniel Maclise
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'The Meeting of Wellington and Blücher' by Daniel Maclise

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This huge painting, just over 12 feet high and 46ft 8ins long shows the Duke of Wellington meeting the Prussian Marshal Blücher in the final moments of the Battle of Waterloo, at 9.15 pm on 18 June 1815. The two heroes of the day met at the ruins of an inn called 'La Belle Alliance', which had been Napoleon's headquarters during the battle. Wellington is mounted on his famous horse Copenhagen, and immediately beside him to the right are Lord Arthur Hill, General Somerset and the Hon Henry Percy, with various Life Guards and Horse Guards. Blücher is accompanied by Gneisenau, Nostitz, Blülow, and Ziethen.

On the white horse, with drawn sword at his shoulder, is an Englishman, Sir Hussey Vivian, who was attached to Blücher's staff. All the details of this historical event were most carefully researched. It had indeed been claimed that the two generals met elsewhere in the field of battle, and rode together to the inn. The matter was settled by Queen Victoria, who wrote to her daughter Victoria in Germany, asking her to question the aged Nostitz. This old soldier, who had been Blücher's aide-de-camp, confirmed the details of the meeting. One of the details he corrected was the question of what Blücher had worn on his head. Nostitz insisted that he wore a forage cap instead of the hat and feathers with which Maclise had provided him. The artist made the change.

Maclise painted the picture from 1859 to 1861. With the 'Death of Nelson' fresco which faces it across the Royal Gallery, it is his masterpiece. The almost obsessive accuracy of detail and circumstance does not extend to the overall conception, which is notably idealistic and dramatic.

The prevailing mood is grim and tragic: there is no glorying in a military triumph. In the left foreground a French artillery officer lies dead across his gun, while beside him an English soldier has his leg bound and another is carried off.

On the right foreground, a group of wounded Life Guards, whose officer lies dead against the broken-off wheel of a gun. To the right of the wheel, a wounded officer of the Lancers is tended by a doctor. Further back, a young soldier is carried away. Such is Maclise's attention to detail that we can tell not only that this is young gallant Howard, celebrated by Byron in the poem 'Childe Harold', but also that the soldiers bearing him away are a Highlander, an Irish fusilier and an English Foot Guard. To the right of this group, a young Flemish officer is given the last rites by a priest.

Meanwhile in the background, the routed French flee, pursued by the Prussians, in accordance with a plan agreed between Wellington and Blücher. Pushing on through the night, they drove the French out of seven successive bivouacs, and at length drove them over the River Sambre.

The Campaign was over: the French had lost 40,000 men and almost all their artillery, while the Prussians lost 7000 and Wellington over 15,000 men. So desperate was the fighting that 45,000 killed and wounded lay on an area of about 3 square miles. At one point the 27th Inniskillens were all lying dead, still in their square, and the position of the British infantry was clear to see from the red line of their dead and wounded. It was this sombre aftermath which Maclise painted.

(2) 'The Meeting of Wellington and Blücher' by Daniel Maclise

(3) 'The Meeting of Wellington and Blücher' by Daniel Maclise

(4) 'The Meeting of Wellington and Blücher' by Daniel Maclise

(5) 'The Meeting of Wellington and Blücher' by Daniel Maclise

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(7) 'The Meeting of Wellington and Blücher' by Daniel Maclise

Additional Information on
'The Meeting of Wellington and Blücher' by Daniel Maclise

In 1857 Maclise was commissioned to paint the series of frescoes in St Stephen's Hall, but undertook work on two monumental wall paintings in the Royal Gallery instead. He began with a cartoon of 'Wellington meeting Blücher'. This was finished with incredible speed and was then exhibited in the Royal Gallery during May and June of 1858, where it was examined by the Prince Consort, and was then exhibited in the Royal Academy. Here the work gained much praise and admiration from Maclise's contemporaries. The cartoon was then bought by the Royal Academy and is now stored at Burlington House, having been hung for a time in the gymnasium of Sandhurst Royal Military College.

Meanwhile, having experimented with fresco in the Royal Gallery Maclise had decided that the commission was going to prove too difficult to undertake and so had resigned his commission. However, after a visit to Germany he was converted to the waterglass method of painting and so the plaster was prepared for him in December 1859. Maclise began work on 'Wellington and Blücher' in January 1860, and it was finished during the winter of 1861.

In March of 1862 the finished work was thrown open to the public. The exhibition caused a sensation, with visitors 'marvelling at the fertility of Maclise's invention'. Critics claimed the composition to be superb, and the details of military uniforms, equipment, the horses and the expressions of the characters exceptional.

Unfortunately, the second commission ('The Death of Nelson') did not run so smoothly, and in fact gave great grief to the painter. The death of the Prince Consort had robbed of its chief promoter the grand scheme of decoration proposed under him by the Fine Arts Commission. By 1864, the programme had been wound up, and henceforth the decoration of the Palace proceeded by piecemeal commissions. As Maclise finished this enormous project, he found that it was associated by many with the failure of the scheme as a whole. The artist was described as being 'worn out with intense application', and 'looking like an old, old man'. To a visitor he spoke gloomily: 'Nobody cares for the pictures after they are done, or wants them, as far as I can see.'

But modern critics see the paintings much more positively, praising their serious and sombre realism and their expressive power.

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