Lord Nelson had become a national hero even before his death aboard HMS Victory during the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. He established his military reputation with his contribution to British victories at the Battle of the Nile (1798) and the Battle of Copenhagen (1801), for which he was made first a baron and then a viscount; his notorious and scandalous liaison with Lady Emma Hamilton secured his fame.
In this painting by Drummond, Nelson is being carried down from the deck by fellow seamen after receiving his fatal wound. The artist has borrowed compositional devices from scenes of the deposition (descent from the cross), deliberately giving Nelson a Christ-like appearance. He had, after all, in the eyes of the public at least, saved the country from the threat of French invasion.
Samuel Drummond was born in London; he joined the navy when he was fourteen and served for seven years. He is said to have been present at three engagements, which could well be true as he was serving at the height of the American War of Independence. When first practising as an artist he worked in pastels, later turning to oils and concentrating on portraits, genre scenes and naval battle pieces. He exhibited over 300 works at the Royal Academy between 1791 and 1844 and was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1808, later becoming Curator of the Royal Academy Painting School. He died in London in 1844.
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