Size: 163 x 247½ cm
Exhibited: Royal Academy, 1888; Naval Exhibition, 1891
Current owner: Norwich Castle Museum
Original caption: ‘On the 14th September, 1805, Nelson embarked at Portsmouth from the beach, where the bathing machines were placed, instead of the usual landing place, to elude the populace; but a crowd collected in his train, pressing forward to obtain a sight of him. He said, ‘I had their huzzas before; I have their hearts now’. The crowd pressed forward to shake hands with him, when he expressed regret that, having one hand only, he could not do so with all, etc.’
The painting was shown at an exhibition of British naval painting in 1891, but remained in Eyre Crowe’s possession until 1905, when he sold it to Norwich Castle Museum for £150. It is still owned by the Museum, but is not on public display; however, details of the painting, and a colour image, are available on the Norfolk Museum Service’s website.
A print of the painting also forms part of the collection of the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich. The Museum’s description of the print reveals that,
This image was reproduced in several publications such as the ‘October Monthly’ and the ‘Art Journal’, May 1904. It was also presented as a free copy with no. 675 of ‘Chums’, a periodical paper founded by Cassell & Co. in 1892. This was aimed at boys and advocated honour, middle-class values and high morality through adventure stories. Nelson was thus presented as their perfect exemplar, demonstrating the triumph of heroism and goodness over the enemy.
Athenaeum, 5 May 1888:
Mr. Eyre Crowe has sent a picture of unusual importance, which has occupied a considerable time. It represents, on a canvas 8 ft. long, Nelson leaving England for the Last Time (1055). By choosing a secluded part of the beach, Nelson endeavoured to make his departure as private as possible; notwithstanding this a certain number of persons surrounded the barge, and even when it was afloat several persons rushed into the water to shake hands with him, while others cheered him. The boat is nearly parallel to the edge of the sea; her crew, sitting double banked. hold their oars in the air to salute their chief; every face has been carefully studied from nature. The eyes of most of them are fixed on Nelson, standing in the stern and shaking hands with an old man-of-war’s man, who, bareheads, has waded into the water to bid the admiral farewell. It is said that Nelson cried out that he wished, instead of one hand, he had twenty hands to shake with his friends. The empty right sleeve of his coat is buttoned to his breast. A chorus of ‘old salts’ appear, shouting good wishes, at the further gunwale; at the nearer gunwales, close to the stern, an enthusiastic fisher-girl, with a creel at her back, is cheering Nelson. Like her wooden-legged neighbour, she has stepped into the sea. The office in command of the boat stands up near the stern and holds the admiral’s cloak, which, when he sits down, will be wrapped about his knees. In the mid-distance other boats are quitting the beach; far off are some big ships, the curving bay, and buildings at the shore.
Saturday Review of politics, literature, science and art, 19 May 1888:
…the worst picture in the Academy – “Nelson leaving England for the Last Time” (1055) – comes from Mr. Eyre Crowe
The Times, 25 May 1888:
The tenth and eleventh rooms contain a curious mixture of successes and failures … Mr. Crowe, again, has fallen sadly below the standard that is fairly expected of an Associate in his stiff and lifeless performance.
Illustrated London News, 2 June 1888:
Mr. Eyre Crowe’s ‘Nelson leaving England for the last time’ (1055) endeavours to convey the dismal foreboding of the great national hero as strongly as the enthusiasm of his numerous admirers. We are free to confess that Mr. Caton Woodville’s work [‘Too Late’, showing the death of Sir Herbert Stewart] seems to us the more complete and the more dignified work of the two … the ‘glum’ face of Lord Nelson … is repeated with feeble variety in that of all the sailors, who are to row the Admiral’s barge. There is, moreover, on this occasion, a heaviness in Mr. Eyre Crowe’s touch which is not inherent to his style; and we miss here the dextrous hand which has so often charmed us.