Rare portrait acquired by national museum with support from Art Fund

A rare portrait of a midshipman, a veteran of the Battle of Trafalgar, has been acquired by The National Museum of the Royal Navy with support from Art Fund and an anonymous, generous charitable trust.

What marks the portrait as out of the ordinary is that it is a very rare depiction of a midshipman, a young junior officer, at the time of Vice Admiral Lord Nelson. The museum only has one other oil portrait of a midshipman within its collections.

Painted by accomplished portraitist George Henry Harlow (1787-1819) when he was just 18-years-old, the work shows John Windham Dalling (1789-1853) as a 16-year-old midshipman in the Royal Navy. Harlow was trained under the acclaimed portrait painter, Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830).

Alison Firth, curator at The National Museum of the Royal Navy explains: “Dalling is depicted as a wonderfully poised and self-possessed young gentleman, who is standing before a stormy seascape. This, in all probability, shows Cape Trafalgar, Spain after the ‘Great Storm’ that blew up in the days following the Battle of Trafalgar of 21st October 1805.

“Portraits like this personalise the story. Dalling survived Trafalgar, many didn’t. He went on to have a long naval career, and is now captured for posterity.”

The portrait was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1806 and must have been a direct commission from Dalling’s family. The owner, who sold it to the National Museum, purchased it from Dalling’s descendants in 2011.

Professor Dominic Tweddle, Director General of the National Museum: “We are thrilled to acquire this portrait. Our collection is incredibly rich in Nelson, Admirals and other high-ranking naval officers. But we have very few depictions of youth and sacrifice. Ordinarily, portraits captured the great and good; the wealthy and titled. We are keen to democratise our portraits and include the young embarking on their careers like Dalling.”

HMS Hermes returning from the Falklands