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This picture-within-a-picture shows a naval cadet of about 1890 looking at what is perhaps the most famous image of Nelson, painted by Lemuel Abbott (see BHC2889) in the Naval Gallery in the Painted Hall of Greenwich Hospital, to which it was presented in 1849. Nelson was regarded as the greatest British naval hero and so the narrative of the painting indicates that he is perceived as the real subject of the picture, conveying a patriotic message to the boy and the viewer.
The other two paintings in the picture are also of Nelsonic subjects and still in the care of the National Maritime Museum as part of the Greenwich Hospital collection. The large image to the left is the ' The Destruction of 'L'Orient' at the Battle of the Nile, 1 August 1798’, by George Arnald (BHC0509), and the other is 'Nelson in Conflict with a Spanish Launch, 3 July 1797’, by Richard Westall (BHC2908). Since all three paintings depicted demonstrate the suffering and bloodshed associated with warfare, and Nelson's heroism and fatal wounding at the Battle of Trafalgar, it is difficult for the modern viewer to approach Davidson's picture without a hint of irony. Consequently it is open to different readings.
oil on canvas
H 91.8 x W 71.1 cm