Open House London 2011: Apsley House

apsley house open house london
Front elevation of Apsley House, 149 Piccadilly, Hyde Park Corner, London
Photo: English Heritage

Number One London is Apsley House, home of the Duke of Wellington.  Little has changed in the home’s interior since he lived there in the 19th century.  The Duke of Wellington moved into the house after his victory over Napoleon at Waterloo.

Apsley House was built for Lord Apsley and originally was a red brick structure designed by Robert Adam.  The house passed through several owners before the Duke purchased it in 1817.  Over the next few years, the Duke made many alterations to the house.

Apsley House boasts one of the finest art collections in London, including works by Rubens and Velazquez.   The Duke of Wellington captured much of the collection from the Spanish Royal Collection.  It is filled with Italian masterpieces from Corregio and Romano, and many works from Spain’s “Golden Age” of painting.

The colossal statue of Napoleon as Mars the Peacemaker by Italian artist Antonio Canova, stands at the foot of the grand staircase, and is dramatically lit from one side.  He is holding a gilded Nike in his right hand and a staff in his left.  The statue used to be on display at the Louvre in Paris.  In 1816, it was purchased from Louis XVIII by the British government and given to the Duke.

Apsley House is a Grade I Listed building. Currently, the 8th Duke of Wellington lives in part of the house.


Apsley House was fantastic.  The imposing corinthian pillars and the symmetry of the bays, make a grand impression.  Truly, Neoclassicism is the language of the Empire, visually showing to the world that whoever lives there is very powerful indeed. 

napoleon as mars the peacemaker
This statue of Napoleon as Mars the Peacemaker
used to belong to Louis XVIII.  Photo: Wikipedia

The interior is no less stately and imposing.  The grand staircase, with the statue of Napoleon as Mars the Peacemaker was breathtaking and so unexpected.  It set the stage for the rest of the house in all its grandeur.  It also makes a very bold statement about England’s victory over Napoleon and the French to have the statue greet everyone who walks into the house.

I loved the Waterloo Gallery.  I’ve seen similar layouts before, where paintings hang on the wall from floor to ceiling on both sides of a gallery with velvety benches down the centre, but this one had an heir, a presence that was amazing. 

The statue Napoleon as Mars the Peacemaker used to belong to Louis XVIII.  Photo: WikipediaI just sat down and absorbed all that stateliness.  The soft velvet benches, the thick, rich carpet, the exquisite chandeliers.  Even though the house was busy due to Open House London, I could still feel isolated and away from the rest of the world.  As a whole, Apsley House had that effect on me.  To look around a room and see Pieter de Hooch,  Jan Brueghel the Elder, Rubens, Correggio, and Velázquez  was thrilling.

The collection of silver and porcelain is also worth mentioning.  In the dining room, a long table was set with I don’t know how many pieces of silver.  There were pieces that were gifts from this dignitary or that queen, candelabras, plates, cups, and things that I have no idea what they were used for.

Going through the house, I saw what one wealthy man did with his money.  He created a museum filled with art and culture, a monument worthy of Number One London.  I doubt any wealthy person today has the desire, the taste, the knowhow, to create anything remotely similar.


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