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Nelson is shown in the central foreground, standing on the deck of the captured 'San Nicolas'. Facing to the left, he is bare-headed and his left hand is outstretched. He is poised to receive the sword of a Spanish officer who kneels on the deck to support the dying Spanish Commodore Geraldino in his right arm. A priest also kneels just beyond him, and another Spanish officer holds his sword in both hands towards Nelson. Immediately behind Nelson on the left, is Captain Edward Berry, who was with him in the 'Captain' as a volunteer supecargo, looking down on the dying Spaniard. On the right of Nelson, and with his left arm pointing down at the Spaniard is Lieutenant Pearson of the 69th Regiment, some of whom were serving as marines in the 'Captain'. His head is turned away from the viewer and with his right hand and sword he gestures to his men that the ship has struck. In the left background, part of the stern galleries of the 'San Josef' are visible, with Spanish sailors firing from them.
Westall has conveyed the staged effect by employing a dramatic language of gesture and expression. The static tableau in the foreground contrasts with the turmoil being played out in the distance. Nelson's uniform has been closely observed as he stands poised over the dying man, while still-life objects such as a pistol, piece of rope and bloody swords arranged carefully on the deck. A theatrical effect is implied by the rhythmic and exaggerated arm movements of the chief protagonists, particularly Lieutenant Pearson. Rigging is visible in the distance on the right and the action of Spanish sailors firing guns has been suggested by the use of pale colours and sketchier appearance. The composition is both idealized and largely imaginary. By Nelson's own account the Spanish Commodore on the 'San Nicolas' was shot down in the initial rush, which Nelson led and thence straight into the 'San Josef', on whose quarter-deck he received the swords of surrendering Spanish officers. There is no clear evidence that a scene like this took place on either the 'San Nicolas' or the 'San Josef', where the admiral was also mortally wounded, and almost certainly not as regards the former.
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Nelson receiving the surrender of the 'San Nicolas' | Richard Westall | 1806
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