Sunday, 14 July 2013

Nelson's Last Portrait

This is the last portrait taken of Nelson from life, and it sold recently at Sotheby's for £64,900.

Nelson by John Whichelo

It's one of the less 'pretty' portraits of Nelson but for that reason is also one of the more human and realistic.  The artist was John Whichelo, who created the chalk portrait when visiting Nelson at Merton in September 1805.  Nelson sailed from Portsmouth for the last time on 14th September, so the sitting really was squeezed in at the last moment.  

The portrait, showing Nelson in profile looking to the left, is very similar to the one Simon de Koster painted (below) in 1800.  That one was known to be one of Nelson's favourites of himself, so it's possible that either directly or indirectly, he influenced the 21-year-old Whichelo to create something similar.

Nelson by Simon de Koster
Whichelo kept the portrait himself for thirty-three years, until in 1838 he was employed in giving drawing lessons to the son of Rear-Admiral Sir William Parker.  Then he gave it to Parker with the note:
"Mr Whichelo most respectfully begs to send Sr Wm Parker the Head of the Late Illustrious Nelson.  Drawn by him from the Hero during his short stay at Merton the beginning of September 1805."
It remained with Parker's descendents ever since, until the recent sale.

See also: the Sotheby's listing