J.M.W. Turner was a great admirer of Vice Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson — the unconventional tactition and brilliant leader of the British Navy at the close of the 18th century. In 1822, King George IV commissioned Turner to commemorate Lord Nelson's victory and tragic death at the Battle of Trafalgar — Turner's first and only royal commission. While Turner had painted the Battle of Trafalgar multiple times, he exhaustively researched his new work, studying Lord Nelson's ship, the "Victory" — requesting the ship's plan from the admirality and working with marine artist J. C. Schetky to capture accurate perspective.
In a last nod to his hero, the ship's signal flags spell out "DUTY" — after Lord Nelson's last words: ‘Thank God I have done my duty."