Nelson unpatched – the rediscovered painting that reveals battle scars
Paint that covered missing eyebrow and head wound is removed in restoration of original characterisation
IT IS not uncommon for prominent figures to have their imperfections airbrushed out of history.
But Admiral Lord Nelson’s facial scarring and missing eyebrow will now be presented in all their glory, after the discovery and painstaking restoration of a “lost” painting, which included the removal of paint that had covered up the British maritime hero’s blemishes.
The painting, part of a series of portraits of the famous admiral done by Italian artist Leonardo Guzzardi in 1799, was last publicly seen in a newspaper article in 1897.
It was rediscovered in an American private collection by Philip Mould, an art dealer and presenter of BBC programme Fake or Fortune?
On finding the painting, he discovered that Nelson’s missing eyebrow, and some of the scarring he sustained at the Battle of the Nile in 1798, had been painted over.
The injuries to the Royal Navy’s most famous admiral were caused by flying metal during the battle and were a crucially significant part of Guzzardi’s original characterisation.
Mr Mould, who brought the painting back to England for restoration, said: “This was like reversing plastic surgery to reveal lost history. Seeing the scar emerge was a remarkable moment – Nelson, the human, replaced the more heroic projection.
“It was not uncommon for unsophisticated restorers in the last century to believe they were ‘improving’ original works with their own paintbrush, only to disguise their authenticity and distinction in the process.”
The painting was owned by collector Alfred Morrison, who also possessed the much celebrated correspondence between Nelson and his mistress Lady Hamilton. It will now be displayed at Philip Mould & Co’s gallery in London from tomorrow and is on sale for an undisclosed amount.
Alongside the painting, a recreation of the diamond chelengk, a form of military decoration, which adorns Lord Nelson’s hat in the picture, will also be displayed. The original was stolen from the Royal Maritime Museum in 1951.
The picture was first discovered, rolled up in Italy in the 1880s, by an English art dealer who brought it to England. It was then bought by Morrison. It was last seen in 1897 when it was published in a newspaper serial called “Nelson and His Times”, following which it is was sold and shipped to America. Some time in the 20th century, a restorer painted in Nelson’s lost right eyebrow, most likely thinking he was making good an artistic error.
The painting portrays Lord Nelson following the amputation of his arm, the loss of sight in one eye, and a severe head wound which forced him to wear his hat thrust back to lessen the pain.
The wound, and his subsequent concussion, has been blamed for altering Nelson’s behaviour in the months which followed when he assisted in the brutal suppression of a revolt in Naples and embarked on his passionate affair with Lady Hamilton.
The Battle of the Nile, also known as the Battle of Aboukir Bay, was a major naval battle fought between the British Royal Navy, led by Admiral Lord Nelson, and the Navy of the French Republic on the Mediterranean coast off the Nile Delta of Egypt. Nelson led the British fleet to a decisive victory.
‘This was like reversing plastic surgery to reveal lost history’
Guzzardi’s portrait of Admiral Lord Nelson, now restored to the original version, with eyebrow missing and scars from the Battle of the Nile. It will be on show in a London gallery