Built by Robert Adam between 1771 and 1778 for Lord Apsley, the Lord Chancellor, who gave the house its name. Some Adam interiors survive: the Piccadilly Drawing Room with its apsidal end and Adam fireplace, and the Portico Room, behind the giant Corinthian portico added by Wellington. The house was given the popular nickname of Number One, London, since it was the first house passed by visitors who travelled from the countryside after the toll gates at Knightsbridge.
The core of the Wellington Collection was formed by the ‘Spanish gift’, with paintings rescued from the battlefield at Vitoria, Spain, in June 1813 at the end of the Peninsular Wars. The retreating Joseph Bonaparte had taken over 200 paintings from the Spanish Royal Palaces but was unable to escape with them all. Wellington’s men saved most of the paintings, amongst them works by Velázquez, Titian, Rubens and Brueghel. Wellington was aware of the quality of the paintings in Spain but he had no real idea of what treasures he had rescued until they were sent back to his brother William, Lord Maryborough, in London.
When most of the paintings had been identified, Wellington wrote to the restored King Ferdinand VII and offered them back. Wellington was told that the King was “touched by your delicacy”. He did not want to deprive Wellington of ” that which has come into your possession by means as just as they are honourable”. Today 82 paintings from the Spanish Royal Collection are on display.
When Wellington purchased Apsley House he started to collect paintings that appealed to him. At two sales in Paris, his agent purchased 12 important Dutch pictures including three by Jan Steen and two by Nicolaes Maes. He also commissioned portraits of his contemporaries, notably three full-lengths by Sir Thomas Lawrence of the 1st Marquess of Anglesey, Lord Lynedoch and of Viscount Beresford which joined other military portraits by the Dutch artist Pieneman. The most expensive painting that Wellington ever bought is by Sir David Wilkie, ‘The Chelsea Pensioners Reading the Waterloo Despatch’. It cost £1,260, an enormous sum at the time.
The Museum Room on the ground floor houses some of the magnificent gifts that were given to Wellington after Waterloo by the grateful monarchs of Europe. Dinner services by Sèvres, Meissen and the Berlin Factory dominate the room along with a rich collection of silver. The rosewood cases around the room date from Wellington’s day.
Do join this visit by booking your own ticket, with English Heritage, on line at: www.englishheritage.seetickets.com/tour/apsley-house for Wednesday 14 June at 11.30 and then emailing Judy de Haas at the email address above, to let her know you are joining this visit. Judy de Haas will meet you in the entrance hall by the ticket desk from 11.15 . Wander around the house and its unique collections at your own pace and Judy de Haas will give a suggested time to gather for a coffee/tea in the caffe next door in Hyde Park where, weather permitting, you can sit outside. Bathroom facilities in Apsley House.
Please check the website for up to date guidelines regarding any Covid restrictions.
Nearest Tube station: Hyde Park Corner (Piccadilly line). Buses: 9,14,19,22,52,74,137,414