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Fame Proclaiming the Names of Horatio Nelson and Robert Calder

Not on view

Fame Proclaiming the Names of Horatio Nelson and Robert Calder

Artist: Mather Brown (American, 1761 - 1831)

Date: c. 1804
Medium: Brown (most likely iron gall) ink, over graphite, on cream-toned or coated, heavy-weight wove paper
Dimensions:
Overall: 8 1/2 × 5 13/16in. (21.6 × 14.8cm)
Signed: Recto: 'Nelson and Victory Calder'
Credit Line: Museum Purchase
Object number: 94.3.A
Text Entries

The American-born Mather Brown had won distinc-

tion in Great Britain in the 1780s and 1790s as a painter of

portraits and historical scenes, but his reputation subse-

quently went into a decline from which it never

recovered.(1) Although he continued until the end of his life

to paint events from the distant past, his last contemporary

history painting, Lord Nelson’s Victory Of Trafalgar, dates

from 1806-7.(2) The title is both punning and ironic, as the

picture represents the moment during the Battle of

Trafalgar (October 21, 1805) when England’s greatest naval

hero was mortally wounded on the deck of his flagship,

HMS Victory. Brown was one of a number of artists then

working in Britain who painted views of the Battle of

Trafalgar or Nelson’s death.

At first glance, the MWPI drawing would appear to

have been executed as a memorial to Nelson, but the

presence of the name “Calder” below the allegorical figure

of Fame dates it to within Nelson’s lifetime. Robert Calder

(1745-1818) entered the Royal Navy at the age of fifteen

and served with distinction for many years. He was knight-

ed in 1797 after the Battle of St. Vincent, made a baronet

the following year, and promoted to rear admiral in 1799.

Calder subsequently was assigned to the Channel fleet and

in 1804 was promoted to the rank of vice admiral. His

active career ended, however, in 1805. Criticism of his

conduct during an abortive engagement with a combined

French and Spanish fleet on July 23 and 24, 1805, led him

to demand a court-martial, and he was ordered back to

England to stand trial. Unfortunately for his reputation, he

sailed for home a few days before Trafalgar and so did not

participate in that great victory. Moreover, the court-mar-

tial found him guilty of an error in judgment, and he

received an official reprimand. Although he was promoted

to admiral in 1810 and made a Knight Commander of the

Bath in 1815, he never again held a command.(3)

It is unlikely that Brown would have included Calder’s

name if he had made the drawing following the events that

led to the Admiral’s court-martial; thus, a terminus date of

July 1805 may be proposed. Nor can it have been executed

prior to May 1803, when the Victory became Nelson’s

flagship. A likely date would be 1804, the year Nelson was

named vice admiral of the white squadron and Calder was

advanced from rear admiral to vice admiral.(4) The reason

Brown did the drawing is not known, although it may

have been intended to serve as the model for an engraving.

Brown published portfolios of his own soft-ground etch-

ings in 1802 and 1803. One etching, Britannia Receiving the

Olive Branch of Peace from a Dove looks almost as if it could

be a mate to Fame Proclaiming the Names of Nelson and

Calder. No etching of the MWPI drawing is known, and

Brown does not appear to have published any other

original etchings after 1803.

DRM

1. The best and most recent study of the artist’s life and career is Evans, Mather Brown.

2. This work was owned in 1982 by R. H. Strudwick, St. John,  Jersey, Channel Islands, and is reproduced in ibid., 145, fig. 131.

3. Dictionary of National Biography, s.v. “Calder, Robert." Portraits of Calder by Lemuel Francis Abbott are owned by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., and the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, England. See John Hayes, British Paintings of the Sixteenth through Nineteenth Centuries: The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systemic Catalogue (Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, and Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 3-5.

4. Dictionary of National Biography, s.v. “Calder, Robert.” See also Peter Whitlock and William Pearce, Nelson and Victory (Portsmouth, Eng: Portsmouth Royal Naval Museum Trading Co., n. d.), 24.

5. An impression of this print is at the British Museum, London, and is reproduced in Evans, Mather Brown, 141, fig. 125.

 

Copyright
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