Lot 108
  • 108

Lawrence Gahagan, Irish, fl.1756-1820

bidding is closed


  • A bust of Nelson
  • signed and dated: L. GAHAGAN / FECIT / IAN Ist / MDCCCVI (1806),
    the column with plaque inscribed: PART OF THE VICTORY / Trafalgar 21st October 1805 / Presented by the / Lords Commissioners / of the Admiralty / TO THE CALEDONIAN / UNITED SERVICE CLUB / 1844

  • white marble carved in two sections, mounted on a white marble socle and wood pedestal carved with a laurel wreath made with oak from H.M.S. Victory


The Caledonian Club, Edinburgh (formerly the Caledonian United Service Club), 1844-2002;
Private Collection, London


Records of the Caledonian Club, MSS. GD309, The National Archives of Scotland

Catalogue Note

The reappearance of the present bust, which was unknown to Walker in his iconography of Nelson, is an exciting addition to the oeuvre of the Irish sculptor Lawrence Gahagan.

Although busts of Nelson were produced in some numbers by Gahagan and his son Lucius until 1839, only three versions in marble are known to survive.  The primary version, dated 1798, resulted from a sitting Nelson gave to Gahagan in the former's lodgings at 141 Old Bond Street.  It was exhibited at the Royal Academy in the same year (no.1050) and is now in the Royal Naval Museum, Portsmouth.  A smaller and less intricately observed bust, at 29cm. high and dating to 1805, is in the Homan Potterton collection, New York, while the third, undated and with draped shoulders, was formerly at Rudding Park, Yorkshire.

The present bust, dated 1st January 1806, was probably carved in late 1805 shortly after the news of Nelson's death had reached London in November.  Gahagan must have been prompted to complete it in time for Nelson's lying in state and funeral on January 9th, when demand would have been high for a sculpted likeness of the immortal hero.  Its truncation is unique amongst the known variants in plaster, terracotta, lead and bronze for its inclusion of the Large Naval Gold Medal attached to a neck scarf. Nelson was the only man to be awarded three such medals (for the battles of the Nile, St. Vincent and Trafalgar) and the only person to be awarded one posthumously. It might reasonably be suggested that the medal shown here is intended to represent the latter.

The bust incorporates minor revisions to Nelson's physiognomy in response to mild criticism of the smiling expression in the primary, 1798 version. With its disorderly hair concealing the Nile scar on his forehead and the stern nature of his expression, it portrays exactly what Walker described as the 'grimmer, more formidable aspect' of Gahagan's later variants.

The pedestal, with its separately carved laurel wreath, was adapted from oak taken from the Victory, according to a letter from Sir John Barrow, Secretary to the Admiralty, recorded in the Club's Minutes of 1 March 1844.  Precedents for busts of Nelson being mounted on pedestals of Victory oak include the Flaxman bust in the Institute of Directors (taken from the Cathead) and another by Chantrey.  Together these make an interesting addition to the cannon of furniture made from the ships timbers.

An untraced bust of Nelson belonging to a Mrs Marion Cox of Knightsbridge in 1936 would make an interesting comparison to the present work, being the only other bust signed and dated 1806. Unfortunately her letter preserved in the NPG did not specify whether it was a marble.

R.Walker, The Nelson Portraits, London, 1998, pp.209-14;
W.Strickland, A Dictionary of Irish Artists, Dublin, 1989, pp.393-94;
R.Gunnis, Dictionary of British Sculptors, London, 1964, pp.160-61;
Sotheby's, 'Rule Brittania!' A Loan Exhibition of Paintings and Works of Art in aid of The Royal National Lifeboat Institution, exh.cat., London, 1986, p.104