Measurements: 13.5cm (5.3in) x 26.6cm (10.5in) x 22.1cm (8.7in)
Wrist of the right hand engraved: ‘Hands of his Father / The Great Duke / Modelled by / Baron Marochetti’. Wrist of the left engraved: ‘Presented / To / R.G.H. / By / H.G. The Duke of Wellington’. Material, patinated copper. Method of production, electroform.
The present sculpture is one of three known examples. The other two are in the Royal Collection and the collection of the National Army Museum. The former is mounted on a marble base and described as bronze. The latter, also mounted on marble, is attributed to Elkington & Co., circa 1840. The present example appears to be the only one inscribed and as such combines several historically significant themes; these being the work of the metallugist Alexander Parkes (1813-1890) and Prince Albert’s interest in the industrial arts; the sculpture of Baron Carlo Marochetti (1805-1867), and the significance of the sculpture as a filial presentation gift from Lieutenant-General Arthur Richard Wellesley, 2nd Duke of Wellington, K.G., P.C.
If the example in the National Army Museum is correctly dated to the 1840s then it and the present model relate to the period of heated debates surrounding Marochetti’s commission for Glasgow’s equestrian statue of Wellington against heavyweight home-grown competition from Sir John Steell (1804-91), John Gibson, R.A. (1790-1866) and Sir Richard Westmacott (1775-1856), or, at least, the successful attempt to raise his professional profile in a new market (Art Union). Much has been made of Marochetti’s focus on treating his art as a business, and trading on royal favour to gain commissions, not to mention a theatrical, flashy and sometimes flattering sculptural style (Ward-Jackson, Lustrous Trade. 174-90). It was an approach that served him well in his dealings with the French and Italian courts. Thus, before becoming a permanent fixture on the British art scene after 1848, the idea of a sample of his work being placed before an influential few as a means of self-promotion is a highly plausible one. The choice of clasped hands, a technically complex subject, flatters Marochetti’s virtuosity as a figurative sculptor, while the slightly over life size scale hints at a readiness to execute public works on the grand scale.
Given that Marochetti was gainfully employed glorifying France’s military exploits in the early 1840s, (he was working on the relief panel of the 1792 Battle of Jemappes for the Arc de Triomphe) it makes further sense that following the recent return of Napoleon’s body from St Helena that he chose the hands of Napoleon’s nemesis, the Duke of Wellington, for his British promotional model. Piedmont-born Marochetti after all was acutely aware of the influence of xenophobia could play in awarding commissions. Although a naturalized Frenchman, educated at the Lycée Napoléon and École des Beaux-Arts, his scheme for Napoleons's tomb at Les Invalides had to be dropped because in France people protested against the choice of a young ‘foreign’.
The choice of electroform for the model of Wellington’s hands can also be seen as part of a wider agenda. At the time the skill of Paris foundry workers was widely admired but the recent invention of Alexander Parkes, who ran the casting operations for Messrs. Elkington & Co. in Birmingham, was now offering the first real alternative to bronze and the opportunity to tap into a burgeoning middle-class market. Such was of great interest to Prince Albert whose self imposed mission to foster the industrial arts was ultimately realized in the commerce driven spectacle of the Great Exhibition of 1851. The merit and facility offered by Parkes’ electroforming process was cutting edge and capable of producing works of unparalleled intricacy. So much so that when Prince Albert visited Elkington’s works in 1844 he was presented with an electroplated spider’s web.
As events of 1848, the Year of Revolutions, played out across Europe, Marochetti’s ground work in laying the foundations of a successful practice in England bore fruit. Following King Louis Phillipe (who, as Duke d’Orleans, had starred at the Battle of Jemappes as the commander of the French centre) into exile he ‘was swiftly introduced to the British royal family’. Queen Victoria found him to be ‘very agreeable, pleasing & gentlemanlike’, and commissioned a bust of Prince Albert. Other important work followed. His huge figure of Richard the Lionheart, first modelled in plaster, was placed at the entrance to the Great Exhibition before being cast in bronze and sited outside the House of Lords, where it has stood ever since. Working from the modelling rooms and foundry in the mews behind his house in Onslow Square, Kensington, Marochetti directed a team of twenty workers and undertook design tasks of the type approved of by Prince Albert for companies such as Minton & Co. In the mid 1860s the foundry became widely known through John Ballantyne's painting, The Artist's Studio (now in the National Portrait Gallery) which shows painter Landseer working on his colossal lions for the base of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square - Landseer, with little knowledge of sculpture himself, was largely assisted in his task by Marochetti.
By 1853 Marochetti was ‘in all but name, the official royal sculptor’ (Piggot). In that same year he produced his portrait of Queen Victoria’s favourite son, the infant Prince Arthur supporting a Roman-style short sword that has been deemed a metaphor for the martial mantle passed down to the prince from his godfather and namesake, the Duke of Wellington (Ward-Jackson, ‘Victoria & Albert, Art & Love’). Always guarded in respect of maintaining exclusivity of ‘unpublished works’ that justified his hefty price tags, Marochetti acceded at this time to Minton’s application to the Royal collection to reproduce several of his portrait works in Parian in accordance with royal wishes. His crowning achievements in respect of his royal patronage were his equestrian statues of Victoria and Albert for George Square, Glasgow, and effigies of the couple for the royal mausoleum at Frogmore in the grounds of Windsor Castle. In 1854 Marochetti completed a second Wellingtonian public work, this time a standing bronze of the late Iron Duke (d.1852) for the city of Leeds.
In 1857 Marochetti was at the centre of a controversy caused by an announcement in The Times that described his model for a ‘colossal monument to the Duke of Wellington for St Paul’s’, while neglecting to mentioning other sculptors were similarly engaged in what was in effect an open competition sponsored by the Government. All entries were to be delivered anonymously to Westminster Hall for judging lest the name of the artist influenced the selection committee. Clearly Marochetti’s leak to the press, royal patronage and possible networking with committee members themselves stacked the odds in his favour. And this was not all, a rival complained to the London Daily News, ‘The sculptors of England have not had time yet to forget how entirely they were kept in ignorance that a national commission of a peculiarly interesting character had been given away from them, until the large sum of £17,000 was demanded from parliament to pay the Baron Marochetti for the Scutari monument ‘. In the end the St.Paul’s commission went to Alfred Stevens (1817-1875).
It is hard to imagine that the second Duke of Wellington was unaware of the controversies surrounding Marochetti’s output, yet when it came to choosing a sculptor for the monument to his father’s memory to guard the Heckfield entrance to Stratfield Saye - the country estate presented to the first duke by a grateful nation in 1817 at a cost of £600,000 - he looked no further than Onslow Square. It might be argued that the 2nd Duke’s decision to allow Marochetti the honour was informed by the weight of public expectation (or even that of the household servants and estate workers who had requested the tribute in the first place). Indeed such is certainly understandable from a man who on succeeding his famous father, reportedly remarked ‘Imagine what it will be when the Duke of Wellington is announced, and only I walk in the room.’
The Wellington Commemorative Column, comprising an 80 foot high granite column weighing 60 tonnes topped with a nine foot bronze of the Duke, was begun in 1863. Clearly it allowed for considerable interaction between the 2nd Duke and Marochetti as patron and artist, but there is some evidence of a social relationship. The 2nd Duke and Marochetti had a shared interest in sport and held the rights to the Oulton estate, to a well known sporting property in Norfolk (Norfolk News). At the inauguration of the column in August 1866, ‘The Duke proposed “The Health of Baron Marochetti” to whom, he said was due, whatever enjoyment those who looked upon the monument might derive from the contemplation of the beauty of its design’ (Reading Mercury). The Wellington Column was to be one of Marochetti’s last works. He was elected a full Royal Academician the same year but died during a visit to his family seat in France in 1867 and was buried at Vaux-sur-Seine, of which town he had been mayor twice.
There is little doubt that Marochetti was ever ready to steal a march on his professional rivals - a fact established by the furore surrounding the unsolicited model of Wellington that he submitted to Glasgow committee in 1841 (Art Union), which in turn sparked a debate on the opposing merits of British and Continental sculptors. The present ‘Hands of the Great Duke’ therefore may be seen as a ‘calling card’, which by which this artist and nobleman, or ‘genius of no country’ as The Times called him, sought out the greatest patrons of the day.
Art Union, ‘The Glasgow Statue’, p.83, 15 Jan. 1841.
Bullus, C. & Asprey, R. (2009) ‘The Statues of London.’ Merrell, London and New York.
London Daily News ‘The Wellington Monument and Baron Marochetti’, p.2, 4 Jun. 1857.
Marsden, J. (2010) ‘Victoria & Albert: Art & Love.’ London: The Royal Collection.
Piggott, J.R. (2004) ‘Palace of the People: The Crystal Palace at Sydenham, 1854-1936’. Hurst, London.
Ward-Jackson, P. (2012), ‘Victoria & Albert, Art & Love, Public and private aspects of a royal sculpture collection.’ Royal Collection Trust.
Ward-Jackson, P. ‘Carlo Marochetti, Maintaining Distinction in the International Sculpture Market.’ in ‘The Lustrous Trade: Material Culture and the History of Sculpture in England and Italy, c.1700-1860.’ Ed. Cinzia Maria Sicca and Alison Yarrington. Leicester: Leicester University Press, 2000.
Reading Mercury, ‘The Wellington Monument at Strathfieldsaye’ 4 Aug. 1866, p.2.
The Times, ‘The Late Baron Marochetti,’ 4 Jan. 1868, p. 9.
‘(Pietro) Carlo Giovanni Battista Marochetti.’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online.