'The Death of Nelson', Benjamin West, 1806
Oil on canvas
182.5 x 247.5cm
Accession Number WAG 3132
This painting shows the great British naval hero Lord Nelson on the deck of his ship 'Victory' at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. He lies dying after being shot by a French sniper. The painting is not completely accurate, as Nelson died below decks, where he was carried after being wounded.
Crowds flocked to see this work when West exhibited it in his house a few months after the Battle of Trafalgar. Many of the portraits were said to be taken from life. The event, however, is presented in an idealistic and theatrical manner.
The formula is similar to West's famous 'Death of Wolfe', now in the National Gallery of Canada. This had revolutionised British history painting over 30 years earlier, but 'The Death of Nelson' never enjoyed the same critical acclaim.