This major exhibition will gather together some of the most extraordinary and potent objects connected to Admiral Lord Nelson, reflecting his naval victories, his relationships and above all his affection for his native county of Norfolk.
At the heart of the exhibition is the Tricolour Ensign of Le Généreux, captured in February 1800 by the Foudroyant, Nelson’s flagship captained by Sir Edward Berry, also an adopted son of Norfolk. When a ship is defeated the signal of surrender is the striking of the colours, removing the Ensign from the ship. The Ensign from Le Généreux was immediately packed up and sent to the Lord Mayor of Norwich, Sir William Harvey and hung in St Andrew’s Hall until 1897. The Ensign was displayed in the Castle Keep in 1905 for the Centenary celebrations of the Battle of Trafalgar, it has not been seen in public since.
The most iconic portrait of Nelson was painted by William Beechey in 1801 and hangs in Blackfriars’ Hall. A giant of a painting (261.4 cm x 182.6 cm), the life-size portrait was commissioned by the City of Norwich and recorded in the Chamberlain’s Accounts 1800-1, p 25, ‘Paid Sir William Beechey for Lord Nelson’s Portrait £210’. It depicts Nelson in his dress uniform, including the bicorn hat given to Beechey after the sittings by Nelson and donated alongside the portrait, it forms part of the collections of Norwich Museums and will be displayed in the exhibition. Nelson is surrounded by symbols of his major victories, the sword of the defeated Spanish Rear Admiral Don Xavier Winthuysen, surrendered at the Battle of Cape St Vincent rests against a cannon draped with a Spanish Ensign. A French Tricolour Ensign lies on the deck at Nelson’s feet, representing the Battle of the Nile, in which the French fleet was routed with only 2 ships escaping destruction or capture, one of which was Le Généreux.
The inscription of the ornate gilded oak frame lists Nelson’s many titles and also “This Portrait was Presented by the Corporation of Norwich in Remembrance of the signal Services to his King and Country, and Splendid Victories obtained under his Command by the Union of the most Undaunted Valour and the most Consummate Skill, in which the Superiority of the British Navy was decidedly manifested”
“These inarticulate mementoes illustrate and reflect with the convincing forms of truth, the stern Admiral, the generous friend, and the unswerving lover of his country” – Catalogue for the Earl’s Court Centenary Exhibition, 1905.