The present work is an important oil sketch for William Salter's famous painting of the Waterloo Banquet in 1836 at Apsley House (English Heritage, Apsley House). In a letter from Laura Salter, a descendent of the artist, written in 1925, she states that the present picture is 'the first sketch in oils for the positions [used in the final version]'. This letter, along with contemporary newspaper reviews for the finished work will be included in the sale of this lot.
The banquet, held annually by the 1st Duke of Wellington for the officers who fought at Waterloo, until his death in 1852, was a glamorous and much publicised occasion, attracting crowds outside 'No. 1 London', eager to rub shoulders with the war heroes as they arrived to be greeted by the Duke and a band of the Grenadier Guards.
Salter was invited to the dinner in 1836 to capture the scene, and the final work took five years to complete. Nearly every guest sat to the artist individually, the sketches of which are now in the National Portrait Gallery. When the finished painting was exhibited for the first time at various venues in London in 1841 before being definitively hung at Apsley House, it was recognised as a magnificent achievement. One reviewer noted '... it is a great national picture, and its interest is enhanced when we consider how soon the illustrious characters before us will exist only as historical celebrities, and their place among men be found alone in the breathing canvas of Mr Salter'. Indeed, Salter had exercised some artistic license by including in the composition Earl Bathurst and Lord Robert Manners who had already died in 1834 and 1835.
The present sketch for the scene which took place in the Waterloo Gallery shows how early on the artist had overcome the gargantuan task of showing every figure face-on or in profile round the dining table. He chose to portray the moment at which the Duke rose to propose a toast to the Queen as dessert was put on the table, when the guests, freed from the constraints of earlier etiquette in the meal, had formed themselves into groups for private conversation. Thus each figure is distinguishable, and it is unsurprising that the Duke of Sussex claimed to recognise up to sixty of the guests in the final painting from their resemblance to the originals.
Also visible in the sketch and final work is the silver-gilt Portuguese centrepiece given to the Duke in 1816 by the Portuguese Council of Regency as a gift for his role in the Peninsular War. Along the East wall, a portrait of King Charles I on horseback after Sir Anthony van Dyck looms above the standing Duke, as if in regal appreciation of the war hero and his men.
William Salter was born the son of a tradesman in Honiton, Devon, 1804. He studied under James Northcote from 1822 to 1827 before travelling to Italy where he spent some years in Florence and was appointed Professor of Historical Painting at the Academy. He returned to London in 1833 where he set up a successful practice as a society portraitist, exhibiting regularly at the Royal Academy and British Institute. His commission to paint the Waterloo Banquet was undoubtedly a rare achievement, both artistically and socially, for an artist described contemporaneously as 'not yet in the middle-age of life'.