NELSON – THE CORNELIA KNIGHT SKETCHBOOK
Lot 111
NELSON – THE CORNELIA KNIGHT SKETCHBOOK
Sold for £30,000 (US$ 46,859) inc. premium

Lot Details
NELSON – THE CORNELIA KNIGHT SKETCHBOOK
Sketchbook containing a sequence of thirty-seven watercolours drawn by Ellis Cornelia Knight when with Nelson, Lady Hamilton and Sir William Hamilton on board his flagship the Foudroyant in the Mediterranean in 1800, twenty-six showing views taken from the Foudroyant (starting with a "View of Torre d'Orlando on the Southern Coast of Sicily from on board the Foudroyant, Ad.l Lord Nelson – Sir E.d Bury – Cap.tn"); the sketches numbered from 1 to 37 and indexed with titles: nos.1-4 drawn at Palermo prior to embarkation; nos.5-16 drawn from the Foudroyant, off the coast of Sicily; nos.17-21 drawn when on excursions from the ship round about Syracuse; nos.22-25 drawn from the Foudroyant when sailing to Malta; nos.27-28 drawn "at Malta from Villa"; nos.28-37 drawn from the Foudroyant on the voyage from Malta back to Palermo; with autograph index at end, 37 drawings in all (each c.128 x 184 mm.), plus one smaller frontispiece vignette, fly-leaf inscribed by her: "This book was begun at Palermo in Sicily. 1800. Finished at Windsor – 1806", the drawings in generally good unfaded condition, two with flimsy paper guards attached, a few others with minor glue-stains etc., some leaves removed while making the index, contemporary gilt calf, rubbed, oblong 8vo, Mediterranean, 1800

Footnotes

  • 'LIVE FOOTAGE' OF NELSON, EMMA AND SIR WILLIAM HAMILTON IN THE MEDITERRANEAN – A REMARKABLE NEW DISCOVERY: we know of no comparable collection of views taken from one of Nelson's ships during his lifetime (the nearest equivalent, perhaps, being the Thomas Baxter sketchbook, showing civilian views of Merton in 1802-5, held by the National Maritime Museum, F4109).

    Of particular note is sketch no.19, which might well be the only known picture from life showing Nelson in the company of Lady Hamilton. The sketch is captioned in the index: "19. River Anapus with the ruins of the temple of Olympiche Jupiter", and shows a rowing boat on the river Anapo, with the ruins of the Temple of Zeus (Syracuse Olympieion) to their left and a bridge ahead. Seated in the stern of the boat and viewed from the back is a thin figure dressed in a blue naval coat with prominent gold epaulettes on both shoulders, and attired in an unmistakable large tricorn, worn sideways-on à la Nelson. A lady sits to his left (unusually), so that she can be shielded by a parasol held in his left hand. To his right sits a gentleman dressed in civilian clothes. While there exist satirical prints showing the pair together, as well as plenty of posthumous imaginings, this we believe has claims to be the only glimpse of Nelson and Emma (plus Sir William) from the life: for a survey of the complete Nelson iconography, see Richard Walker, The Nelson Portraits, 1998. The other participants in the scene, the four men rowing the barge, have, incidentally, their own footnote in history, being not long after signatories to the famous letter addressed to Nelson on quitting his command, stating that "It is with extreme grief that we find you are about to leave us", and subscribing themselves "Your most humble and obedient servants/ Barge's Crew of the Foudroyant".

    Several other scenes show barges being rowed out to or from ships at anchor (presumably conveying their captains on their way to see the admiral), and one shows two sailors walking on the Foudroyant's deck, with a midshipman or officer standing nearby with a telescope tucked under his arm. Of particular note is a view of "Guillaume Tell in Siracusa harbour/ From the Foudroyant": this being the last surviving French ship of the line to escape the Battle of the Nile, which had been taken on 31 March 1800. The views of Malta, taken while staying with Governor Ball, have their own interest, not least by illustrating what was to be the stamping ground of S.T. Coleridge a few years later.

    Ellis Cornelia Knight (1757-1837), the author of these sketches, and her mother were members of Dr Johnson's circle. She had been forced to move to Italy on the death in 1775 of her father, Admiral Sir Joseph Knight. Here Cornelia devoted her time to learning new languages, writing and drawing; amassing a total of some 1800 drawings, "some with the pen, but mostly coloured ones, the former from imagination, the latter from nature" (quoted by S. J. Skedd, ODNB): a group of these, very much in the style of the present series, has recently appeared on the market, see especially the sale at Sotheby's, 28 November 2002, lots 237-246. According to Richard Garnett, Cornelia and her mother "spent the last year of Lady Knight's life in Naples and, during the Jacobin revolution there, in Palermo, in the company of Sir William and Emma Hamilton and Lord Nelson. Cornelia obtained the title of Nelson's poet laureate through her verses celebrating his victories, and dedicated her ode 'The Battle of the Nile' to Sir William Hamilton 'as a tribute of gratitude from a daughter of the waves for the distinguished attentions confer'd on the British Navy' by him and his wife. On her mother's death, on 20 July 1799, she complied with the latter's wishes and placed herself under the protection of Lady Hamilton" (DNB). However, "On her return to England in November 1800 with the now notorious ménage à trois of the Hamiltons and Nelson, Knight was advised by her friends that she was damaging her reputation by remaining in their company. She immediately left and severed her connections with her erstwhile patrons, much to their disgust. Emma gave vent to her feelings by writing in a copy of Molière she had been given by Knight: 'Altho she is clever and learned She is dirty illbred ungrateful bad mannered false and deceitful But my Heart takes a noble vengeance I forgive her'... 254). Little is known of Knight in the years before she was appointed companion to Queen Charlotte in 1805" (S. J. Skedd, ODNB).

    A succinct account of the cruise of the Foudroyant so vividly described in these sketches is given by Cornelia Knight herself, in her autobiography: "Lord Nelson's presence being much needed at Malta, to direct the operations of the blockading squadron, Sir William and Lady Hamilton decided on accompanying him. At first I declined being one of the party, but when I heard that it was the admiral's intention to visit Syracuse, and perhaps other parts of the island, I could not resist the temptation, nor was I disappointed in my expectations. We sailed from Palermo on the 23rd of April, 1800, on board the Foudroyant, of eighty guns, with the flag of Lord Nelson, and commanded by Sir Edward Berry. The party consisted of Sir William and Lady Hamilton, another English lady and gentleman, an old Maltese nobleman, and myself. The officers of the ship were in their turns invited to dinner: the table was good, but unostentatious... Owing to the contrary winds, we experienced some difficulty in threading the Straights of Messina, but on the 1st of May we landed at Syracuse, and spent two days in seeing all that is interesting in that ancient city. Late in the evening of the 3rd we joined the blockading squadron off Malta, on which island we remained till the 20th, occasionally dining at the governor's, Captain Sir Alexander Ball's, and sometimes at the quarters of General Graham, afterwards Lord Lynedoch. On the last day of May we were again in the harbour of Palermo" (Autobiography of Miss Cornelia Knight, 1861, i, pp.145-148).
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