Okay, so there are about ten million gazillion portraits of Nelson out there. Well, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but you get my drift!
  The thing is, each one of these portraits seems to show a slightly different Nelson to the rest. His character seems to change and his features might be slightly different.This variation makes it rather tricky to know exactly what Nelson looked like. The accounts can also differ somewhat too, just to make it all the more difficult for us!
 So, what did he really look like, and which one best shows of his personality?
  Here's a list of the, I think, most realistic portraits of Nelson, and some quotes that others who met him said will be in a later post, so you can decide for yourself what you think Nelson really looked like!
 I am using the two Vienna life-masks of Nelson as my guide, when choosing these images (more on those later!).

I guess we should start with the portrait that Nelson himself believed was the most life-like, a little sketch of his profile by Simon de Koster! When asked once about which portrait he thought looked like him the most, Nelson replied that de Koster's was "the most like me."
 I'm guessing that Nelson would be a good judge on this (or perhaps he wasn't, you never know!), so I  think this one is definately one to consider when thinking about Nelson's true appearance! 
 To add to that, I find this profile rather fascinating, because I can't help but think that this image makes Nelson look very, well... normal! Some might say a bit dull even, in comparison with other portraits, but maybe that's because his face doesn't really have any expression on it!
 Quite often, painters would try make Nelson appear to be the most heroic person on the planet, even to the point of him looking quite God-like. But this simple portrait does not seem gloss anything over; it tells no lies. Nelson still has this look of dignity and authority that was so common in his portraits, yet he was of course an aging man at this stage, and this portrait does not hide that.
 If you want an image of Nelson the Human, I think this is definately the best one. The only other one which could compete would be one of the ones by Heindrich Fuger, one showing Nelson wearing civilian clothes, which no other portrait shows. However, I'm not a big fan of the Fuger portraits (I'm not sure that the features are quite right), so for me this one wins.
The image to the above is an oil based on the sketch.

The second image I've chosen is by Charles Lucy, showing Nelson sitting in his cabin on the morning of Trafalgar. This one was, of course, done after his death, but I think bears a strong resemblence to Nelson. His features all seem consistant with other portraits that Nelson sat for, and his face looks a lot like the life-masks which were done in Vienna in 1800.

Nelson looks reflective and calm in this painting as he prepares for battle. 
  I think it's actually quite a touching image of Nelson in his final hours, knowing that death is not unlikely, he is still relaxed and thoughtful, resigned to whatever his fate may be- a true portrayal of Nelson on the day of Trafalgar.

The third portrait has always been a favourite of mine. It is by John Hoppner and is a full length portrait of Nelson, with the Battle of Copenhagen raging in the background.

Nelson, as per normal, looks commanding and heroic, but also appears friendly and approachable, like a good-natured celebrity.
 I really get a sense of his charisma and charm from this portrait. It's easy to see why he was so well respected, and indeed, loved by so many people.

The only negative I have is that, like quite a few other portraits, particularly like the one by William Beechy (very much the best portrayal of Nelson the Commander, I think), which I do actually like, it seems it's been "beautified" a little, rather like airbrushing a photo today.
 A great many people reported that Nelson looked considerably older than he really was, and these two portraits oppose that description, making him look a lot younger than he did.
 Nonetheless, I believe all the feautures are about correct regarding their shape and size. So, all in all, quite an accurate portrait.

Some might be surprised that I've chosen this portrait. It is not generally very popular. And I think for quite obvious reasons...

However, facially, I think this is a very realistic painting. His features are really good and his face isn't beautified like many others are. And it's one of the few portraits to show his Nile scar, a fresh wound at the time which is why his hat is placed so far back- infact, it's so far back I really don't see how it would have stayed on his head!

It's just... everything else.
 It looks like he's doing ballet.... I'm guessing the weird pose is an Italian thing, since it was an Italian artist, by the name of Leonardo Guzzardi. But all the same, it just doesn't work for Nelson- it's both overly dramatic and extremely unflattering!
 And it looks kind of like someone's been attacking Nelson's hair with some hairstraighteners! Nelson had quite wavy hair, but the bit of hair you see in this image looks dead straight- and a bit odd.

Nevertheless, the one bit of the portrait that does impress me still earns it a place as the final portrait on this list.

Wow, my shoulders are really aching now- that was a seriously long post! But, to be truthful, it'd be quite easy to write a whole essay on this subject, there's so much to say!
 Just a quick note, I would have included the Lemuel Abbot Portraits too as I think they are also quite life-like, but this post is already quite long, and I feel like both he older one and the newer one desereve a separate mention as I get a different feel from both of them. Perhaps I'll talk about them in a later post.

If you want to read further into portraits of Nelson, The Nelson Portraits by Richard Walker is a very good book for that- it goes into a lot of detail!

If you'd like to read some other opinions on the Nelson portraits, do have a look on the Portraits page to read what C-in-C Rosie's views are, they may well be different from mine, so check it out if you haven't already!

Take Care for now!

6/21/2012 08:41:32 am

Wow! You put a lot of work into this post, Rae-Rae! You obvioiusly know your Nelson stuff fluently!

Of the group, I'd have to the say that the Simon de Koster one looks the most realistic and the John Hoppner one looks the best! As far as the "Italian ballerina pose" one goes...well....Did Nelson ever find out how this portrait turned out, and did he know future generation would compare him to an Italian Ballerina because of it??? Hmm....I wonder....;-)

Do you know who painted the Nelson picture I put on my blog post and the story behind that?

6/21/2012 11:00:14 am

Thanks for your kind comment Pearl! It's appreciated!
It takes so much work to do big posts like that. My most recent one took me over 5 hours and flicking through hundreds of pages in books to find quotes, and it's not even that big!

To be honest, I don't know what Nelson thought of the Guzzardi portrait, but it definately would be interesting to find out!

The portrait on your blog is by Hoppner, and, I believe, the same one as posted here, just cropped. :)


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    Hi there! I am second in command here at HMSH!
     My name is Rae-Rae and and I live in Worcestershire in the UK.
     I am a teen Nelson enthusiast and my passion has lasted since I was only nine- over seven years!
     I aim (rather ambitiously!) to rekindle the love of Nelson and his Navy for the younger generations and make him a well-known hero again. I want his memory never to fade!
     Please do check my YouTube channel for any Nelson-related videos, as I do post on there from time to time!



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