The Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805: 'The Close of the Action' [position of the fleets at 4.30 p.m.]

This is a small replica of the painting that Huggins executed for King William IV in 1837, when it was also exhibited at the British Institution. It shows the position of the fleets at 4.30 on the evening of 21 October in a rising gale. Huggins had already done a pair of large paintings of Trafalgar for the King, shown at Exeter Hall in 1834. The prime version of this one, which is chronologically the middle of the three subjects, seems to have been a separate commission. It has now emerged that it is an oil copy, with very slight variations, of a watercolour by Lieutenant Paul Harris Nicolas (1790-1860), who served as a 2nd lieutenant on the 74-gun 'Belleisle' at Trafalgar and was also a younger brother of (Sir) Nicholas Harris Nicolas, later editor of Nelson's dispatches.

Inscriptions along the lower edge of the watercolour's frame identify the ships shown: to the left in stern view in the distance the French 'Redoutable', 74, lashed alongside the British 'Temeraire', 98, with the 'Fougueux' 74, on the latter's right but hidden by the dismasted hulk of the 'Santa Ana', 112, taken by the 'Royal Sovereign', Collingwood's 100-gun flagship. This is the principal subject in port-bow view, centre left, with only her foremast standing. To her right are Rear-Admiral Dumanoir and four French ships escaping southward, with 'Victory' in distant starboard-quarter view. An unnamed captured French ship is next, in stern view slightly to port with only mainmast standing, then the bow of the 'Santisima Trinidad', 130, in starboard view with the stern (in port-quarter view) of the 'Nepture' 98 beyond and the 'Leviathan', 74, at the far right edge of the composition.

Nicolas is known to have done at least one other watercolour of the battle, showing the situation of the 'Belleisle' at 1.00 p.m. but the dates of execution are not known. He became full lieutenant in July 1808, served at Basque Roads in 1810 and went onto half-pay in September 1814. He lived to receive the Naval General Sevice medal and also wrote a history of the Royal Marines.

Object Details

ID: BHC0542
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Huggins, William John
Events: Napoleonic Wars: Battle of Trafalgar, 1805
Date made: After 1837
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Macpherson Collection
Measurements: Frame: 707 mm x 935 mm x 60 mm;Painting: 610 mm x 840 mm

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