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The scene in the cockpit on the 'Victory' as Nelson lay dying during the Battle of Trafalgar. Nelson reclines, covered by a sheet, leaving only his head, left shoulder and arm visible; his uniform coat discarded at his feet. His portrait was painted from a posthumous sketch of the body that Devis made upon the 'Victory's return to England in December 1805. Devis made life sketches of those attending Nelson at his death and incorporated them into this death scene.
On the left of the picture are Lieutenant John Yule and Midshipman Edward Collingwood, shown helping a sailor to handle some captured flags. Gaetano Spedillo, Nelson's Neapolitan valet, is shown in profile, holding a glass in his left hand. On the right are Lieutenant George Miller Bligh and Assistant Surgeon Neil Smith. Bligh is half hidden by a marine in the foreground. He is shown seated, apparently dazed from a wound in his head, with his left hand on the wound in his side. Looking towards Nelson, in the right background stands the ship's carpenter, William Bunce, holding his hat in his right hand.
Painted two years after the event, this complex painting focuses on the human response of the men involved in this event. To evoke this, the artist has incorporated portraiture with the imagery of Renaissance religious painting, bathing Nelson in a golden light.
oil on canvas
H 195.6 x W 261.6 cm
National Maritime Museum (Greenwich Hospital Collection)