Described by the auctioneers as “an important discovery”, the likeness is not recorded in any format in the late Richard Walker’s seminal 1998 volume The Nelson Portraits.
Consigned from a UK private collection to the sale at 25 Blythe Road, the 1¾in (4.5cm) pencil drawing was thought to have been done from life on a silk napkin or handkerchief by Albin Burt (1783-1842) in c.1802.
The artist was closely connected to Nelson: his brother, Henry Frederick Burt was secretary to the admiral, his mother was a close friend of Emma Hamilton and he himself was well acquainted with her husband Sir William Hamilton.
Burt began his life as an engraver, training under Robert Threw and Benjamin Smith, but finding himself unable to excel in this field, branched out into painting portraits.
In a contemporary gilt brass and wood frame, the portrait was bought by the UK trade on behalf of a private collector, against an £8000-12,000 estimate.
The sale took place on November 8 and the buyer’s premium was 20%.