Enfilade

Billet-Doux from Nelson to Emma Hamilton Exceeds Estimates

Posted in Art Market by Editor on November 19, 2012

Last week a letter sent from Lord Nelson to Lady Emma Hamilton during their affair sold for £20,000 — well above its estimate of £6,000-£8,000. The pre-sale press release from Bonhams (1 November 2012) . . .

Bonhams: Books, Maps, Manuscripts, and Photographs (Auction 20139)
London, 13 November 2012

A lasting piece of evidence of the affair between Nelson and Lady Emma Hamilton is for sale with Bonhams in Knightsbridge, on 13th November. In the letter Nelson documents the turbulent love life between himself and his mistress, referring to a disagreement from the previous evening. He takes care to note his devotion to her and vows to defend her integrity amidst the scandal. At the time the letter has been roughly dated, Emma had given birth to their child and their affair was public. Despite Nelson’s wife’s demands, he refused to relinquish Emma as his mistress and eventually he left his wife. In the nineteenth century this was an unthinkable social affront and he aggravated the scandal further by choosing to live with Emma and their daughter upon his return from sea.

During the scandal Nelson urged Emma to destroy the letters sent between them, as he largely did. Emma, however, chose to keep her letters which were eventually published in 1814 contributing to her eventual downfall. Plagued by politics and social disgrace, their affair lasted only six years before Nelson’s death in 1805. After this tragic event, Emma was catapulted into a downward spiral and this letter is a delicate reminder of their love at the height of its devotion and is a rare living testament to their affair.

In June this year a marble chimneypiece from Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton’s home sold for £25,000 at New Bond Street, and this note is a further glimpse into the private world behind the public façade of one of Britain’s great naval leaders.

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Post-sale press release from Bonhams (14 November 2012) . . .

Bonhams Auction 20139, 13 November 2012

A letter sent from Lord Nelson to Lady Emma Hamilton during their affair sold for twice its estimate today of £6,000-£8,000 for £20,000 at Knightsbridge in the Books, Maps and Manuscripts sale.

In the letter, dated c.1801, Nelson documents his turbulent love life with his mistress, referring to a disagreement from the previous evening. He outlines his devotion to her and vows to defend her integrity amidst the scandal of their affair. After Nelson’s death in 1805, Emma was at the mercy of society’s judgment without his protection and this letter is a rare living testament to their affair.

The top lot for the sale was a first edition of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of the Species (1859) which doubled its estimate of £15,000- £20,000 to sell for £45,650. As one of the most influential publications of the 19th century, this work marked a crucial turning point in modern science and this edition is a veritable collector’s item.

Darwin’s publication was followed closely by a first edition of Izaak Walton’s The Compleat Angler (1653). This work sold for £37,250 and is a very good copy of the most famous work in angling literature. The work is a unique celebration of angling and reflects Walton’s own desires to live a contemplative life.

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