Lowell Libson & Jonny Yarker Ltd

  • Pencil on paper
  • 6 ¾ × 8 ⅛ inches · 170 × 207 mm
  • Drawn c.1807
  • £4,000

Collections

  • John Postle Heseltine (1843-1929); 
  • Charles F. Bell (1871-1966);
  • Private collection, UK to 2024

This rapidly worked, ad vivum study was made by John Flaxman in preparation for perhaps his most important public work, the monument commissioned for St Paul’s Cathedral to Admiral Horatio, Viscount Nelson. 

Flaxman won the commission to commemorate Nelson in 1807 and from the first, he was intent on including two young midshipmen standing with Minerva and looking admiringly up at Nelson. As David Irwin pointed out, during the course of the commission, Flaxman began to work on the monument of Harriet, Viscountess Fitzharris and her Children, models of which he exhibited separately as Maternal Tenderness. Flaxman may have used one of the Harris children as the model in this drawing, which shows him experimenting with the pose of the youngest of the two midshipmen; Flaxman has experimented with the precise disposition of the arms, trying them folded across the child’s chest, or reaching up to rest on the ledge of the tomb. Rapidly worked and incisively handled, the studies underscore Flaxman’s consummate abilities as a draughtsman.

Flaxman’s memorial to Nelson was unusual in the inclusion of Minerva leaning to show the two young midshipmen in contemporary costume, Nelson the hero. It was an element of the sculpture that particularly struck a German critic when he saw it for the first time: ‘Full of inner motherly love and also respect for the hero, this tall woman seems to lead the boys, and this double feeling is expressed as much in her face as in her very noble bearing. This single figure was sufficient for me to acknowledge the respected artist, whose mind and soul strike through the most difficult and reluctant material and captivate the observer.’

John Flaxman
Monument to Admiral Horatio, Viscount Nelson
St Paul’s Cathedral