Lord Nelson’s Real Face Finally Revealed in Restored Portrait

Napoleonic War hero's 1799 portrait shows facial scarring.

November 17, 2017 10:00 am
A portrait of Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson (Philip Mould & Company)
A portrait of Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson (Philip Mould & Company)

A portrait of Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson, a key figure in the Napoleonic Wars, has been restored to its original condition. In doing so, a more realistic and battle-worn image of the legendary British Naval officer has been revealed.

Nelson, who is held in particular reverence in the United Kingdom, had multiple portraits painted, and all of them idealized him to some degree, ignoring the facial scars that came from his military service. But this restored portrait, originally painted by Leonardo Guzzardi in 1799, shows not only Nelson’s scars, but a bloodshot eye and a missing eyebrow as well.

Guzzardi’s portrait had been painted over to disguise these details, but British art dealer Philip Mould found the portrait in a private collection and commissioned the restoration himself.

“This was like reversing plastic surgery to reveal lost history,” Mould told the Telegraph. “Seeing the scar emerge was a remarkable moment – Nelson the human replaced the more heroic projection.”

 As for why it had been painted over in the first place, Mould said that “it was not uncommon for unsophisticated restorers … to believe they were ‘improving’ original works with their own paintbrush, only to disguise their authenticity and distinction in the process.”

The portrait is currently on display at Mould’s London gallery, where it is also on sale for an undisclosed amount.

The InsideHook Newsletter.

News, advice and insights for the most interesting person in the room.