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Walker Pictures of the Month – October 2005

Its a double Nelson from the Liverpool Walker Art Gallery this month with 2 depictions of the death of Admiral Horatio Nelson (1758-1805) as its the bicentennial of the Battle of Trafalgar.
The Death of Nelson – Daniel Maclise (1806 – 1870)
This painting is the oil study for Maclise’s fresco in the House of Lords, commissioned as part of a scheme to redecorate the Houses of Parliament. It would have been a challenge for Maclise to fit all the figures into such a long narrow format, determined by the space allocated for the fresco. The enemy ship the Redoubtable can be seen tangled in the Victory’s rigging in the background of the painting. The figures and action converge in the shape of a St Andrew’s cross with Nelson at the centre, propped in the arms of his favourite, Captain Hardy. Other figures near Nelson include Dr Beattie, Lieutenant Ram, Captain Adair and Sergeant Secker. Surrounding these men are a multitude of other characters all locked in their own drama.

Oil on canvas, painted in 1859 – 1864
Purchased 1892 (No. 2116)

The Death of Nelson – Benjamin West (1738-1820)
West was born in America, but settled in England in 1763. A founder member of the Royal Academy, he was elected its second President in 1792. By the early 1800s he had lost his post of history painter to King George III, and his career was suffering. The success of his painting The Death of General Wolfe in 1770 motivated West to improve his prospects by painting Nelson’s last moments. He extensively researched the event yet chose to show Nelson inaccurately dying on the quarterdeck. West wanted to create an epic and memorable image. He thought that the real scene of a cramped cockpit below deck did not do justice to such a great hero. The entire painting is carefully arranged around the figure of the dying Nelson, and the real experience of a battle is diluted.

Oil on canvas, painted in 1806
Presented by Bristow H. Hughes 1866 (No. 3132)