The Duke of Wellington is represented on horseback, in the prime of life, and wearing the uniform of a field-marshal, his right hand on his hip and his left holding the slack rein. He looks slightly towards the right, as though reviewing his troops. The horse's head is turned slightly in the opposite direction, and is portrayed in a stationary position, all four hoofs on the ground. Such a static style for equestrian statuary, though it later became common, was something of a novelty at the time this statue was erected, having been introduced by Sir Francis Chantrey, in his equestrian statue of George IV for the Marble Arch (now in Trafalgar Square). There are four relief panels on the base of the Wellington statue, whose subjects are as follows:
The Battle of Assaye - This relief depicts the final moment of Wellington's victory over the Marathas in 1803. The Duke, on horseback in the centre of the panel, receives the submission of the conquered chief, whilst to the right, a group of officers are still struggling to rescue a gun-carriage. The scene is full of Indian local colour, and also includes a number of Scottish soldiers, one of whom is wearing kilt and sporran.
The Battle of Waterloo - On the left are the church of Waterloo and the village of Hougoumont in flames, with broken guns and carriages and a party of Guards in the foreground. At the centre, Wellington is shown advancing on horseback, at the moment he is thought to have ordered the final charge with the words "Up, Guards, and at'em". Behind him are infantrymen and mounted officers, with a wounded soldier at the far right being treated by a surgeon.
The Soldier's Return - The soldier in kilt and bonnet is shown entering the family home, his arm raised in greeting. A dog rushes to meet him, whilst the cat sits unconcerned on a chair. To the left, the soldier's father, seated in an armchair, looks up in surprise from the Bible which he has been reading, whilst the soldier's wife, who appears to have been laying the table, responds by raising her hand and looks gladly in the direction of her husband.
The Blessings of Peace - The returned soldier is shown in kilt and bonnet, guiding the plough. Behind him on a hillock are a group of sheep, whilst in the background a laden hay-cart with labourers resting on top of it, is pulled by horses towards the farm.
The raising of a statue of the Duke of Wellington in Glasgow was proposed by the Duke of Hamilton and seconded by Archibald Alison, Sheriff of Lanarkshire, at a public meeting in the town on 18 Feb. 1840. Within a few months a fund of nearly £10,000 had been raised from business firms and private individuals. This has been described by Ray Mackenzie as "by far the largest , as well as the most speedily gathered, private subscription for any monument in Glasgow in the 19th century". By the end of April 1840, a sub-committee had drawn up a list of sixteen sculptors for consideration. This included prominent British sculptors, and also a number of foreigners, among them Carlo Marochetti. They were asked to send in estimates and representations of similar works they had executed. On 20th October, by which time several answers had been received, Sheriff Alison moved at a meeting of the sub-committee that Marochetti be selected. From the outset Alison was opposed by Archibald McLellan, coachmaker and Deacon Convener of the Glasgow Trade House, who owned the buildings around the Royal Exchange in Glasgow where it was proposed to raise the statue. McLellan favoured Sir Francis Chantrey for the job, both in preference to the foreigners and to the Scottish sculptors, Campbell, Macdonald and Steell, who were also on the sub-committee's list. This marked the beginning of a major controversy, reported principally in the Glasgow Constitutional andthe Art Union, the lattertaking sides with the McLellan faction.
Marochetti's candidacy was throughout mediated by his friend and patron, the Dorset landowner, William John Bankes MP, who happened also to be a friend of the Duke of Wellington. First Marochetti sent over, via Bankes a group of three statuettes, with which he hoped to impress the committee. Then Bankes arranged for Marochetti to have sittings with the Duke. Wellington posed for the sculptor, both seated indoors, and on a horse outdoors at Stratfield Saye. Then Bankes and Wellington travelled to Glasgow and were received by the committee, though McLellan made a point of absenting himself, and later objected to the minutes of the meeting. Marochetti brought with him a bust of the Duke and a model for his statue, which included, as well as an equestrian statue of the Duke, allegories of Victory and Abundance. It bore four relief panels: The Return to the Homeland, The Return to the Hearth, Commerce and Agriculture. Cast in bronze, this model had received some modifications in clay.
Although no final decision about the sculptor for the statue had been taken, the job finally went to Marochetti by default when Sir Francis Chantrey died on 25 Nov. 1841. By the time the contract was finally sent off, in the last days of December 1841, it was required only that the Duke be represented "in the Prime of Life", in the dress of a British Field Marshal, on a "high bred English horse", with on the base "at least two bas-reliefs in bronze, of which two shall represent the Battles of Assaye and Waterloo, the other subjects being left to the Baron's own taste and judgement".
In August 1842, Marochetti invited members of the committee to come over to France to inspect his model, before it was cast in plaster. The British ambassador Lord Cowley was deputed by the Duke of Hamilton to perform this function. Cowley reported back that "the whole work will do great credit to Marochetti ". There were delays in the casting of the statue and its reliefs in bronze, a dispute having arisen between Marochetti and his founder Soyer. In the end, although Soyer cast the statue, the reliefs were entrusted to the firm of De Braux. The inauguration, attended by Marochetti, took place in Glasgow on 8 Sept. 1844. The evening before the event, Marochetti was told to expect a torrent of criticism, and is reported to have answered: " if man will dare to criticise the works of the Deity, can the humble endeavours of a child of earth expect exemption. I have done my best. He that does the best that in him lies does well - angels could do no more". Locally, the statue was rather well received, but the Art Union stuck to its guns, accusing Marochetti of an excess of realism and a lack of idealism and simplicity. It claimed "a glorious opportunity has been lost to British Art. The world has been led to believe in the inferiority of our sculptors; and it may be long before experience will remove so grievous a blot upon the character of the country".
A suggestion made in 1855 would have extended the implications of this choice to the Irish field. Following the death of the Duke of Wellington, it was regretted that the so-called Wellington Testimonial in Phoenix Park, Dublin, erected between 1817 and 1820, had remained without any figural adornment. The Irish sculptors Patrick MacDowell and Terence Farrell were approached in turn to provide this, but, probably daunted by the ambitious nature of the task, both made difficulties for the committee. This led to the proposal that, instead of any more elaborate scheme, Marochetti's Glasgow Wellington should be reproduced and placed in front of the Dublin monument. In the end this idea was not adopted, and colossal reliefs were commissioned instead from three different Irish sculptors.
(For fuller accounts of the Glasgow commission, with complete references, see P.Ward-Jackson, "Carlo Marochetti and the Glasgow Wellington memorial", Burlington Magazine, no.1053, vol. CXXXI, Dec. 1990, pp.851-862, and Ray Mackenzie, PublicSculpture of Glasgow, Liverpool University Press, 2002, pp.336-339. For the Irish episode, see Paula Murphy, Nineteenth -Century Irish Sculpture. Native Genius Reaffirmed, New Haven and London, 2010, p.21)