Reopened in Spring 2014 after a major refurbishment, the mansion built by Robert Adam and presented to the Duke of Wellington in thanks for his victory over Napoléon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 was long celebrated as the best address in town. Once popularly known as No. 1, London, because it was the first and grandest house at the old tollgate from Knightsbridge village, the mansion was the residence of the Duke of Wellington from 1817 until his death in 1852. The years of war against the French made the "Iron Duke"—born in Ireland as Arthur Wellesley—the greatest soldier and statesman in the land (and on the walls of the nearby subway, beneath the turmoil of traffic, his heroic exploits are extolled in a series of murals). Opposite the house is the 1828 Wellington Arch, designed by Decimus Burton, with the four-horse chariot of peace at its pinnacle (open to the public as an exhibition area and viewing platform); the Achilles statue (legendarily naked and cast
from captured French guns) points the way with thrusting shield to the ducal mansion from the edge of Hyde Park, entered through an elaborate gateway designed and built by Burton at the same time as the arch.
The duke's former residence shows off his uniforms, weapons, a fine collection of paintings (partially looted from his war campaigns), and his porcelain and plate collections acquired as a result of his military success, such as a Sèvres dessert service commissioned by Napoléon for his empress, Josephine. Wellington's extensive art collection, much of it presented to him by admirers, includes works by Brueghel, Van Dyck, and Rubens, as well as the famous Velázquez portrait of Pope Innocent X and a portrait of the duke on horseback by Goya. A gigantic Canova statue of a nude (fig-leafed) Napoléon presides over the grand staircase that leads to the many elegant reception rooms. The sculptor chose to present his subject, at the time the most powerful man in Europe, as Mars the Peacemaker, depicting the short and stocky emperor as a classical god more than 11 feet tall with a perfect physique. Napoléon wasn't happy with the nudity or the athleticism of Canova's approach and ordered the marble statue to be hidden behind a screen.
The free audio guide highlights the most significant works and the superb interior, most notably the stunning Waterloo Gallery, where an annual banquet for officers who fought beside Wellington was held beneath the sculpted and gilded ceiling and old-master paintings on red damask walls. Special events take place on the annual Waterloo weekend and occasionally on Waterloo Day (June 18) itself, in addition to other special events throughout the year. Call or check the website for details. Limited disabled access.
149 Piccadilly, Hyde Park Corner, London, W1J 7NT, England