Chelsea Pensioners reading the Waterloo Despatch

Sir David Wilkie (1785-1841)

In 1817 Wellington commissioned Wilkie to paint ‘a parcel of old soldiers assembled together’. This idea evolved into something more interesting and over a period of five years Wilkie produced his most famous picture.

The evolution from Wellington’s first request to this densely populated history painting was certainly driven by Wilkie. The addition of the central Chelsea Pensioner reading the Waterloo Despatch was his idea and assured its fame.

When the painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1822 a special barrier had to be erected to keep the crowds back.