This portrait of Henry Wellesley by the talented pastellist John Raphael Smith was drawn about 1805, before the nobleman’s elevation to the peerage, and until now has remained untraced in a collection in Jersey. It noticeably resembles the likeness in the youthful portrait by John Hoppner, which is in the collection of the Dukes of Wellington.
Henry Wellesley was the fifth and youngest son of Garret Wellesley, 1st Earl of Mornington and Anne Hill-Trevor, eldest daughter of Arthur Hill-Trevor, 1st Viscount Dungannon. He was the younger brother of Arthur, 1st Duke of Wellington. Educated at Eton he joined the army in 1790 and began his diplomatic career the following year when he was appointed attaché to the British embassy at The Hague, later becoming Secretary of Legation in Stockholm in 1792. In 1794, while travelling home from Lisbon with his sister Anne, he was captured by the French, and remained in prison during the height of the Revolutionary terror, escaping only in 1795. Two years later he went back to France, accompanying Lord Malmesbury as secretary, in an unsuccessful attempt to negotiate peace. Soon after he travelled to India, where he became private secretary to his oldest brother, Lord Mornington, the new governor-general. He was in India between 1797 and 1799, and again from 1801 to 1802, and was a useful assistant to his brother in a variety of diplomatic capacities, negotiating treaties with Mysore and Oudh.
In the 1807 general election he was elected a Member of Parliament both for Athlone in Ireland and for Eye in England. He chose to sit for Eye, and held the seat until his resignation in 1809 when he was made the British envoy to Spain. His eldest brother, by now Marquess Wellesley, was Foreign Secretary, whilst his brother Arthur, now Viscount Wellington, was British commander-in-chief in Spain and together, the three brothers helped to make the Peninsular campaign a success. He remained ambassador to Spain until 1821. Two years later he was appointed ambassador to Austria, where he remained until 1831 and then ambassador in Paris during Robert Peel’s administrations of 1835 and 1841-1846.
He married firstly Lady Charlotte Cadogan in 1803, by whom he had three sons and a daughter before she left him for Lord Paget, a talented cavalry officer. They divorced in 1810. He married secondly in 1816 Lady Georgiana Cecil, daughter of the Marquess of Salisbury and was created Baron Cowley in 1828.
John Raphael Smith was born in Derby, the son of the itinerant landscape painter Thomas Smith of Derby (fl.1745-1767). Apprenticed to a linen-draper he subsequently pursued the same business in London, adding to his income by producing miniatures and chalk-drawings, largely portraits of middle-class sitters. In 1769 he turned to engraving and executed his first plate eventually becoming the most celebrated producer of prints of the period. Upon the decline of his business as a print-seller he gave up engraving in 1802 to concentrate on his work as a portrait painter in chalk and crayon; his giving up engraving may well be connected with the strain on his eyes occasioned by the fineness of detail required in the work. Whatever the precise reason he went on to quickly develop a lucrative practice in pastel portraiture as a result with as many as forty sitters a week at two guineas a head. His patrons included some of the leading politicians of the day, such as the Whigs Charles James Fox and Lord Holland.