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Horatio Nelson

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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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

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • Sir William Beechey (1753-1839), Portrait painter. Artist associated with 252 portraits, Sitter in 7 portraits.

This portraitback to top

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.

Related worksback to top

Linked publicationsback to top

  • I-Spy National Portrait Gallery, 2010, p. 28
  • 100 Portraits, p. 54
  • Audio Guide
  • Smartify image discovery app
  • Cooper, John, A Guide to the National Portrait Gallery, 2009, p. 32 Read entry

    A vivid sketch (for a portrait commissioned by the City of Norwich), it shows Nelson with brown rather than blue eyes.

  • Cooper, John, Visitor's Guide, 2000, p. 61
  • Cooper, John, Great Britons: The Great Debate, 2002, p. 86 Read entry

    This vivid sketch was for the portrait commissioned from Beechey by the City of Norwich. it shows Nelson with brown rather than blue eyes. Nelson gladly accepted numerous British and foreign decorations. Wearing a selection of them on the quarterdeck of the Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar, he was a conspicuous target.

  • Holmes, Richard; Crane, David; Woof, Robert; Hebron, Stephen, Romantics and Revolutionaries: Regency portraits from the National Portrait Gallery, 2002, p. 10
  • John Cooper, National Portrait Gallery Visitor's Guide, 2006, p. 61
  • Ross, Josephine, Jane Austen and her World, 2017, p. 74
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 455
  • Schama, Simon, The Face of Britain: The Nation Through its Portraits, 2015-09-15, p. 317
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 118 Read entry

    Admiral Lord Nelson remains one of Britain’s most illustrious war heroes and his memorial has pride of place in London’s Trafalgar Square. Charismatic, self-confident and vain, he was ever conscious of his public profile. He was also a notorious maverick in battle and prone to insubordination, traits he dubbed ‘the Nelson Touch’. In 1793, following the outbreak of war with France, he lost an eye in a successful attack on Corsica and his right arm in a battle of 1797. Despite these injuries, Nelson was a masterful tactician leading the British fleet to victory at the Battle of Cape St Vincent (1797) and the Battle of the Nile (1798). While convalescing in Naples, Nelson famously began an affair with Emma, Lady Hamilton. He subsequently destroyed Napoleon’s sea power at the Battle of Trafalgar (1805), where he was mortally wounded.

    This vivid sketch by William Beechey (1753–1839) is a study for a full-length portrait commissioned by the City of Norwich in Norfolk, where Nelson was born. The artist’s alteration to the shape of the head is clearly visible, yet the eye colour, which is depicted as brown instead of grey, was not corrected. Nevertheless, it is considered the most faithful likeness of the admiral.

  • Woof, Robert; Hebron, Stephen, Romantic Icons, 1999, p. 41

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1800back to top

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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