A three-quarter-length portrait of Frances Nelson, to the right in a white dress with bandeau and wearing a red coral necklace round her neck. She has a bracelet on her right arm and holds a white rose in her right hand. She looks out of the picture space to her right and her right arm rests on a column supporting a large urn with tress beyond. Landscape is implied on the left.
Frances (née Woolward) was the daughter of a judge in the West Indies. She married Nelson in 1787 when he was serving as a captain on that station. She was then widow of a Dr Josiah Nisbet (d. 1781), with a son, also Josiah, and was living as hostess in the household of her uncle, a wealthy planter on Nevis. The marriage took place there with Nelson’s naval junior, Prince William Henry (later William IV) as the best man.
Although ‘Fanny’ was neither the efficient domestic manager that Nelson needed and too nervous to support his thirst for risky glory, their childless marriage was reasonably happy until Nelson became passionately involved with Lady Hamilton in 1799. He left Fanny in 1801 to live with the Hamiltons, paying her an allowance of about £1800 a year but rebuffing all her attempts at contact and reconciliation. The fact that she was not temperamentally suited to sustain the relationship with so complex and demanding a man was in no way Fanny’s fault. She continued to love him and remained more magnanimous towards him than he to her. Her whole life was one of quiet, unexceptional respectability, in which she was supported after Nelson’s death by an official pension of £2000 a year.
Nelson promoted her son Josiah’s not very successful career as a naval officer until their separation. He subsequently became a more successful businessman and died suddenly in 1830, hastening her own death the following year: of his seven children all four sons predeceased their grandmother. This portrait is a copy, formerly attributed to Richard Cosway: the original version showed the Battle of Nile in the background.