Horatio Nelson

1 portrait on display in Room 17 at the National Portrait Gallery

Horatio Nelson

by Sir William Beechey
oil on canvas, 1800
24 1/2 in. x 19 in. (623 mm x 483 mm)
Purchased with help from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, 1985
Primary Collection
NPG 5798

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  • Sir William Beechey (1753-1839), Portrait painter. Artist associated with 250 portraits, Sitter in 7 portraits.

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When Nelson returned home from Europe in 1800, he was not only the 'Hero of the Nile', but the subject of intense gossip because of his affair with Emma Hamilton. The portrait copies produced by Lemuel Francis Abbott after his painting of 1797 had satisfied public demand up to a point, but on Nelson's return to London a spate of artists set to work to further immortalise him. In recognition of his Norfolk origins, this portrait was commissioned by the City of Norwich. It depicts Nelson with an air of quiet self-confidence and is considered the most faithful likeness of him. Nelson's last engagement was his greatest victory. Beechey's sketch captures the proud resolve of the Admiral who, refusing to cover his glittering medals, was killed by a sniper while destroying the combined French and Spanish fleets at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

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Current affairs

Widespread food riots after poor harvests of 1798-9. Theorist, Thomas Malthus, controversially argues that poverty and food shortages are an inevitable consequence of population growth, challenging assumptions that populousness was a sign of national prosperity and power. His thesis contributed forcefully to the debate over the existing Poor Law.

Art and science

William Wordsworth publishes his Preface to the Lyrical Ballads; a retrospective explanation of his experimental poems written with Samuel Taylor Coleridge. It becomes one of the best-known manifestos of Romantic literature.


Lord Castlereagh, Chief Secretary for Ireland, is the main architect of the Act of Union under which Ireland is merged with Great Britain and the Irish parliament is abolished. British troops support successful uprising by Maltese against the French. Napoleon is victorious against Austrians at Marengo and reconquers Italy.

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