Nel­son un­patched – the re­dis­cov­ered paint­ing that re­veals bat­tle scars

Paint that cov­ered miss­ing eye­brow and head wound is re­moved in restora­tion of orig­i­nal char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion

The Sunday Telegraph - - News - By Camilla Turner

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

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