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Miniature of Thomas Masterman Hardy of H.M.S. Hêbé, 1791
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Miniature of Thomas Masterman Hardy of H.M.S. Hêbé, 1791

Measurements: Oval: 65mm x 55mm

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Watercolour on ivory. Hardy is shown looking right with powdered hair wearing the uniform of a master’s mate. Framed in gold with pendent loop, reverse glazed and mounted with plaited lock of hair and applied gold monogram T.H.

Thomas Hardy (1769-1839) is the naval officer most closely associated with the life - and death - of Admiral Lord Nelson. A close friend and most trusted comrade, he was present at all Nelson’s major fleet actions and served as the admiral’s flag captain in seven ships including Elephant at the battle of Copenhagen and, most famously, Victory at Trafalgar where Nelson’s final dying request ‘Kiss me, Hardy’ secured him lasting fame. 

This newly-discovered portrait miniature shows twenty-two year-old Thomas Hardy at the outset of his distinguished naval career as master’s mate in H.M.S. Hêbé, 38 guns. It was painted by Frederick Buck (1765-1840) in Cork in September 1791, probably at the artist’s studio on Fenn’s Quay. Hêbé was moored in Cork Harbour having sailed to disembark Irish seamen paid off from the Fleet at Portsmouth.

Remarkably, an account survives of the voyage written by Admiral Sir William Dillon (1779-1857) who was then a young midshipman in Hêbé.  He recalled having a berth on the larboard side of the ship and making the ‘acquaintance of four fine young men, George Cockburn, John West, Thomas Hardy and J.Laurence. The latter I lost sight of, but the three former rose to high rank and distinction in the Navy.’ They enjoyed good weather with frequent ‘rambles on shore’. No doubt during one such trip Hardy visited Buck, an accomplished and prolific miniature portrait painter of visiting naval and military officers.  Mounted with a lock of Hardy’s hair and his monogram, this miniature would have been intended as a gift for a close family member such as one of his five sisters (Hardy’s mother died young), or preserved for later presentation to his wife. It is a very intimate relic of one of the Royal Navy’s most famous officers.

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