“Death of General Wolfe” by Benjamin West depicts the death of British General James Wolfe at the 1759 Battle of Quebec during the French and Indian War. This painting captures a pivotal event in the Seven Years’ War that decided the fate of France’s colonies in North America. The British Army was commanded by General Wolfe and successfully held the British line against the French and won the battle. Unfortunately, General Wolfe was killed by musket wounds.
In death, General Wolfe gained fame as a national hero and became an icon of the Seven Years’ War and British dominance in North America. This image was so popular that West made an identical painting of the same scene for George III of the United Kingdom, one year after this painting. In total, four other additional versions of the Death of General Wolfe were also produced by West.
West is quoted as saying that “Art is the representation of human beauty, ideally perfect in design, graceful and noble in attitude. This painting is an idealised representation of what would have been a very chaotic battle scene. General Wolfe is portrayed as a Christ-like figure, and the composition resembles Christian “Lamentation” scenes, where Christ is held in the embrace of his followers. Despite the dramatised interpretation of Wolfe’s death and its lack of reality, this painting was groundbreaking for its time.
Benjamin West was a history painter at the time of the American War of Independence and the Seven Years’ War. He was the second president of the Royal Academy in London, and was offered a knighthood but declined it, believing that he should instead be made a peer.
- Title: Death of General Wolfe
- Artist: Benjamin West
- Year: 1770
- Medium: oil on canvas
- Dimensions 151 × 213 cm
- Museum: National Gallery of Canada
Artist Essential Facts:
- Name: Benjamin West
- Born: 1738 – Springfield, Province of Pennsylvania
- Died: 1820 (aged 81) – London, United Kingdom
- Notable works:
- Benjamin Franklin Drawing Electricity from the Sky
- The Death of General Wolfe
- King Lear and Cordelia
- Cupid and Psyche,
“Through other people’s faults, wise men correct their own.” Canadian Proverb
Photo Credit: Benjamin West [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons