A bronze bust of Lord Nelson by Anglo-Maltese sculptor Robert Hornyold-Strickland was unveiled by Parliamentary Secretary for Tourism, the Environment and Culture Mario de Marco, during a private view at Mr Strickland’s debut Maltese sculpture exhibition in the Malta Maritime Museum in Vittoriosa on Tuesday.

Robert Hornyold-Strickland, the son of a British naval officer and a figurative sculptor, decided to produce a new bust of Nelson to show Britain’s most honoured naval hero as he really looked, rather than the romanticised vision so often portrayed in paintings and sculptures by earlier generations.

Mr Strickland, originally from Sizergh Castle in Cumbria, he is the great nephew of The Hon. Mabel Strickland, and great grandson of Lord Strickland. He undertook the challenge to produce a contemporary bronze of Admiral Lord Nelson to commemorate his staggering naval achievements, including blockading Malta to assist the Maltese in removing French occupiers.

The life-size bust of the great Admiral will take pride of place in Malta’s Maritime Museum’s Nelson collection and has been gifted partly by Robert Strickland and with the generous support of generous sponsors.

During the blockade of Malta (1798 – 1800) Admiral Lord Nelson was tasked with defending Malta, Gibraltar and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. This blockade was kept up for nearly two years without a break, forcing the eventual surrender by the French in 1800.

Mr Strickland comments on his initial research that: “with the benefit of the internet, books and the best maritime brains in Portsmouth and Greenwich, it became clear that the best likeness would be achieved by studying the life mask produced in Vienna in late August or early September 1800 by Matthias Ranson and used by Franz Christian Thaller for the production of his famous marble bust which is dated 1801”.

This mask, which has been authenticated only in recent years, shows Nelson with his eyes closed to enable the wax to form an impression without damaging his eyes and a second mask was produced from the first showing his eyes open. These fascinating masks are now in the collections of the Royal Naval Museum in Portsmouth and the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.

Mr Strickland’s next challenge was to interpret the photographs he had taken of the facial mask and his observations into a complete contemporary bronze bust of Nelson, ensuring at the same time uniform details were accurate. Fortunately he was able to undertake this with the help of the museums at Portsmouth and Greenwich, their extensive archives, published books on Nelson and contemporary fashion trends and from artefacts and personal mementoes gathered for the bicentennial exhibition of 2005 held in Greenwich.

Strickland decided not to portray Nelson wearing his traditional naval hat but rather sculpting him with a “queue” or pigtail held in place by a piece of cloth tied in a bow, as was the fashion in those days.

(After Nelson’s death his queue was cut off and has been preserved for posterity). Strickland also deduced, through research, that, due to Nelson’s undoubted vanity, he wore his hair low over his right eyebrow to hide the scar from an injury incurred during the Battle of the Nile on August 1st, 1798. All of these points have been incorporated into the finished artwork.

Mr Strickland, studied sculpture at the Heatherley School of Art in Chelsea, London, before moving to Bath and Malta. He now divides his time between both places where he principally undertakes private commissions of portrait and figurative bronze sculptures. His work has been exhibited in Cork Street, London, Polo Ralph Lauren’s flagship store in Bond Street, and galleries in Bath, Edinburgh, and Harrogate.

On finding out about the donation of the bust to Heritage Malta, Lord Nelson’s closest living relative Anna Tribe sent word to Mr Strickland: “I am so pleased that you are going to have in your collection a bust of my great great great grandfather Admiral Lord Nelson done by Robert Strickland, which I feel is a great likeness of him. I hope to visit Malta one day to see it exhibited at the Malta Maritime Museum and wish you all success at the unveiling...”

• The exhibition, held in coll-aboration with Heritage Malta and the Malta Maritime Museum is open to the public till November 28 between 10.30 a.m. and 5 p.m. Supporting the exhibition will be a free Nelson lecture at the museum tonight by renowned academic Stephanie Jones entitled The Likeness of Nelson starting at 7.30 p.m.

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