It stands alone... A unique model shows the original design for Nelson's column

As we've reported, a pair of important George II carved giltwood mirrors which appeared in two adaptations of Brideshead Revisited will lead Bonhams' upcoming Provenance Sale of Fine English Furniture, Work of Art and Sculpture.

However for many another lot will be more attention-grabbing, as it captures a crucial moment in the history of one of Britain's best known and loved monuments:

The carved bathstone prototype 1:40 scale model of Nelson's Column, which shows the original design for the monument erected in Trafalgar Square to commemorate Horatio Nelson in 1843, will be sold at Bonhams in London.

The model, which has attracted a pre-sale estimate of £30,000-50,000, has been described by the historian Andrew Roberts as "a fascinating historical artefact in that it records the changes of plan - and the lack of funds - that dogged the project."

Writing in the autumn issue of Bonhams magazine, Roberts explains how the project ran into financial difficulties when the public subscriptions dried up, and the Nelson Committee, which had been set up to erect a monument in memory of Nelson in 1838, had to approach the Government to adopt the Column and fund its completion.

The Government agreed to this on condition that it approved the plans and designs. Consequently, a number of changes were made, which included the Column being shortened by twenty feet and the removal of the steps.

Roberts writes: "This model therefore fascinatingly represents what the column should have looked like, rather than what we see in Trafalgar Square today."

The model is thought to relate to the correspondence between the original architect, Railton, and Lord Lincoln, following Lincoln's first take on the project.

He stipulated that although he planned to 'depart as little as possible from the original design', he thought it 'expedient' to curtail the 'present proportions of the base of the column' owing to the fact that as presently designed it 'could not fail in some positions to impede the view of the National Gallery' and that 'it would prejudice the appearance of every building in the immediate neighbourhood'.

Model of Nelson's column
Model of Nelson's column

The model was created following Railton's response to back up his defence of the original design. It was not, therefore, created at a very early stage, but after building work had already begun. It did not successfully influence the final design, which Lincoln was already changing round.

This and other factors which delayed the creation of the column frustrated Railton so much that he did not bother to attend the official opening.

The model was initially bought in the 1930s by two stonemason brothers, who, on their father's request, sold it to the famous London steeplejack Sidney Larkins, whose East End company, W.Larkins Ltd, was responsible for cleaning the Column during the 20th century.

Larkins kept the model in the window of his office until he moved to a smaller premises in 1958, when he decided to loan it to the National Maritime Museum, where it has been ever since. Bonhams' sale takes place in London on November 3.


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