This huge painting is one of dozens of large battlefield scenes created in the years after Waterloo, reflecting contemporary fascination with the battle. It was painted by the Dutch artist Jan Pieneman, and became a popular tourist attraction.
A popular past-time in early 19th century Britain was viewing panoramas, huge round paintings in dedicated chambers. They were meant to give viewers the feeling that they were actually standing in the painted scene. The businessmen who owned panoramas were delighted with paintings of the Battle of Waterloo because it was a popular theme and a guaranteed money-maker.
Jan Pieneman (1779-1853), a painter from the Netherlands, decided to capitalise on the social significance of the battle by painting a large history painting that, at 27 feet wide and 18 feet high, was large enough to be advertised alongside panoramas. While it is supposed to represent the field at 7.30 at night just as the Prussians were about to arrive, it is essentially a set of portraits of officers who were at the battle.
What gave the painting additional interest was that Wellington and some of the surviving officers sat for Pieneman when he made his preparatory portrait sketches for the painting. A special temporary pavilion was built in Hyde Park and it was exhibited there in 1825 for several months. Admission to the gallery included an illustrated guide that was a key to the personages in the painting.
Wellington liked the painting very much and wrote to Harriet Arbuthnot that it was ‘magnificent’. He purchased some of Pieneman’s preliminary sketches for Apsley House, where they still hang today. In the painting, Wellington mounted on his horse ‘Copenhagen’, addresses Henry William Paget, 1st Marquess of Angelsea, supposedly giving him the final order. In the distance Napoleon stands with his brother Jerome and orders his guards to attack. In the left foreground, the wounded crown prince of the Netherlands, later King William II, is being removed from the field on a stretcher. In the right foreground, Colonel Sir William Howe de Lancey lies fatally wounded.
To see who the soldiers depicted in the painting are, download this key & list of individuals:
The painting contributed to Pieneman’s reputation and today it hangs as the largest canvas in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Blank Cards of this picture with the key are available at £1 each; apply to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Find it here
This object is in the collection of Rijksmuseum