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Thomas Stothard

1755 - 1834

The Wellington Shield by Thomas Stothard

The Wellington Shield   1820

  Six original etchings and engravings by Thomas Stothard, R.A.
Ref: Shelley M. Bennett, 1988, p.42
S (average) 575 x 710 mm; P (average, surrounding sections) 365 x 635 mm;
P 605 x (580) mm (centrepiece)

The complete set of 6 original etchings and engravings made to form Thomas Stothard’s most important printed work. All of the impressions are on full, uncut sheets with wide margins around the images on all sides. All are exceptionally fine, strong impressions from the only issue, printed for the artist by McQueen & Co.

No other complete set of Thomas Stothard’s Wellington Shield prints, as they were issued, has been offered for sale in modern times.

The largest and most spectacular original etching ever produced by Thomas Stothard, The Wellington Shield was the culmination of a commission which proved to be the most important of this famous artist’s entire career.

The Wellington Shield was to be a vast solid silver three-dimensional shield which was to commemorate the victories of the Duke of Wellington. The shield was commissioned by the merchants and bankers of the City of London and the leading artists of the day were invited to tender for the commission. At this time Wellington’s spectacular victories had raised patriotic fervour to such a pitch in England that all works of art celebrating the Duke were guaranteed an enormous audience.

From the outset, Thomas Stothard appears to have realised the potential value of this commission for subsequent patronage, as his bid to obtain the initial commission significantly undercut those of his fellow artists. Bids were subject to a strict time limit and Thomas Stothard had only three weeks in which to study the history of the war, make all of his designs, and send them in to the committee.

Thomas Stothard’s design was based upon the arrangement of Flaxman’s Shield of Achilles, with a series of narrative subjects surrounding a powerful and dramatic central composition. Stothard’s surrounding subjects commenced with the battle of Assay, included the Duke’s subsequent victories in the Peninsula War, and concluded with his receipt of the Ducal Coronet from the Prince Regent. The massive central composition depicts the Duke astride his charger, surrounded by his generals, trampling on tyranny, and crowned by the winged figure of Victory.

Thomas Stothard completed his design for the shield in 1814 and he sculpted the three-dimensional models for the figures himself. The enormous silver shield itself was made by Benjamin Smith. It bears a London hallmark, circa 1822, and is 40.5 inches in diameter. When the shield itself was first placed on exhibition to the public by Green, Ward and Green, the silversmith firm which executed the commission, it drew considerable attention from the wealthy and the general public, alike. Indeed, the public exposure which this impressive work attracted, proved to be the invaluable source of subsequent patronage which Stothard appears to have foreseen when he submitted his initial highly competitive bid for the commission to design this spectacular work.

Even before the silver shield itself was exhibited, Thomas Stothard decided to execute his own original etchings of his designs for this important work. The set of etchings offered here is made up of the spectacular centrepiece which was designed to form the body of the shield and the whole of the central design, together with all five further plates, on each of which Stothard etched two of the curved surrounding compartment designs (rather confusingly, the five plates used to print the ten surrounding compartments were numbered from 3 to 7, whilst the centrepiece plate remained unnumbered). These were designed to be joined together to form a decorative circular border which was to be placed around the central design. This remarkable composite work was the largest and most ambitious original etching ever undertaken by the artist.

Thomas Stothard’s original etchings of The Wellington Shield are exceptionally rare today. Most of the few surviving impressions have been trimmed to the edge of each of the various images and pasted together, to form a complete roundel, for decorative purposes or display. This truly outstanding set of impressions are printed on full sheets with wide margins beyond each image and with the platemark on all sides (the centrepiece etching shows the platemark at top and bottom, but the plate from which it was printed was just wider than the full sheet width). The sheets have not been trimmed in any way, and show the etched images in their finest completed states, the centrepiece being before the engraved title in the expansive lower margin of the plate.

Only one other example of the complete Wellington Shield has come onto the open market in recent years – it had been pieced together after all of the individual etchings had been cut down to the borderline of each respective image and had then been glued together to form a complete roundel – it was offered at Christie’s in London on 1st July, 1993 (lot 202) where it sold for £14,950.

A proof impression of the centrepiece alone was sold by Campbell Fine Art in 2001 and the companion surrounding sheets were located subsequently, a number of years after they had become separated.

This set of etchings is accompanied by a small set of copies of each of Thomas Stothard’s compositions engraved on wood by E. Landells (5 of the 11 wood engravings are proofs on India paper prior to letterpress). These wood engravings were made to show Thomas Stothard’s designs alongside an extensive article about the Duke of Wellington.

On thick warm white wove paper, in totally unconserved, very fine original condition.