Newly conserved painting that captures ‘The Death of Nelson’ takes centre stage

Newly conserved painting that captures ‘The Death of Nelson’ takes centre stage in gallery dedicated to naval hero

• The painting, by Arthur William Devis, shows naval hero Horatio Nelson’s dying moments during the Battle of Trafalgar surrounded by the key men of his ship
• After being removed from the orlop deck of HMS Victory, Nelson’s flagship, the portrait underwent considerable conservation works
• The process of conservation, which took five months, has brought out details that were once invisible, and will help preserve it for generations to come 

Newly conserved art on display

A newly conserved original copy of Arthur William Devis’ ‘The Death of Nelson’ which famously captures the dying moments of one of the nation’s greatest military leaders, has gone on display at the National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.
The painting, which measures over a metre squared, depicts Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson in his dying moments on the orlop deck of HMS Victory surrounded by the ship’s crew, including the ship’s surgeon William Beatty and Captain Thomas Hardy. It is a smaller version of the one displayed at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.

It is a contemporary copy by the artist of a painting which was made for, and won, a competition in 1805 ran to create the best portrait depicting Nelson’s death at the Battle of Trafalgar.

Devis himself went aboard Victory in Portsmouth in 1805 to view where Nelson died and meet the men who surround Nelson in the painting.

As a fitting memorial to Nelson, the painting was placed where he had succumbed to his battle injuries on the Orlop deck of HMS Victory in the 1920s.

However, by 2016, conservators at the National Museum of the Royal Navy grew increasingly concerned at the painting’s condition on a cold, damp historic ship open to the public, and concluded this necessitated its restoration and removal to a more stable environment. 

Conservation grant and specialist help

A grant from Art Fund, the national fundraising charity for art, allowed the team at the National Museum of the Royal Navy to pay for full conservation of the painting by Brick House Fine Art Conservation, repairing the damaged frame, removing layers of varnish and returning the painting to its former glory.

Figures which were once obscured are now crystal clear. The painting is now hung, fittingly, in the Nelson gallery which is dedicated to the story and myth of Horatio Nelson.

Diana Davis, Head of Conservation at the National Museum of the Royal Navy said:

We are very grateful to the Art Fund for the Conservation Grant that has allowed us to get this very significant object conserved and back on display here in Portsmouth. The painting had darkened so much after years on the ship, but the new details revealed by the conservation are very striking, and visitors can now enjoy it in our gallery, where it is much easier to appreciate those details. The specialist conservators at Brick House have done a wonderful job.

Entry to the Nelson gallery is included with a ticket to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, which is jointly operated by the National Museum of the Royal Navy and the Mary Rose.

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