The pencil and grey wash image, which is attributed to British artist Henry Edridge (1768-1821), was discovered among an assortment of prints bought in bulk by the vendor at a country auction for a modest sum.
Auctioneer Charles Miller, a maritime specialist, has estimated it at £3000-5000 in the sale being staged in West Kensington, London.
At first glance the 14.25 x 7in (36 x 18cm) picture could be mistaken for a print, but on closer examination it became clear that it is in fact a contemporary design from Nelson’s lifetime that was never issued and lost for 220 years.
The portrait depicts Nelson as the victor of Copenhagen (1801) with the city’s warehouses blazing behind him and at his feet lies Marianne of France, his sword tip resting on her throat.
Miller says: “While this serves as a potent image of the Danes’ defeat, this portrait was probably rejected as it was deemed ungallant; the vanquished girl at his feet is presented as a fragile beauty and perhaps more magnanimity should perhaps have been shown by Nelson in victory.”
Nelson was supposed to be subordinate to Admiral Hyde Parker at the Battle of Copenhagen, but his famous audacity was clear when he was ordered to withdraw and he raised his telescope to his blind eye and said: “I really do not see the signal.”
This is the reason that ‘turning a blind eye’ entered the English dialect.
Edridge produced two or three full-length views of Nelson - a signed example ascribed to 1802 may be viewed at the National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth, also in undress uniform, but hatless.
The hat on this example sports a finely detailed view of his famous Chelengk (Ottoman military decoration, a turban jewel), awarded after the Battle of the Nile by Sultan Selim III in 1798. It was the first such award given by an Islamic leader to a non-Muslim.
The jewel pictured here appears to conform closely to the re-constituted version recently researched, produced and written about by Nelson authority Martyn Downer in Nelson's Lost Jewel (published by The History Press, London 2017) suggesting Edridge may have had a first-hand view of this unique decoration.
Downer is a former director and head of jewellery at Sotheby’s.