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1776-Dated “The Death of General Wolfe” After Painting by Benjamin West, William Wollett Engraver, Published by William Wollett and John Boydell

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January 1, 1776-Dated, Original Battle of Quebec, Canada in 1759, Engraved Print titled, “The Death of General Wolfe”, After the original Oil Painting by Benjamin West, Engraved by William Wollett, Published by William Wollett and John Boydell, London, Fine.

This is an original large Engraved Copper-Plate Print measures about 19” x 24.25” titled: “The Death of General Wolfe” after the original historic oil painting by Benjamin West (1738-1820), this print engraved by William Wollett, and published by William Wollett (1735-1785) and John Boydell (1720-1804) in London. The print is laid down on cotton fabric from prior display, has some wrinkling and several tiny scrapes and pinholes, some marginal lightened color from prior framing, as shown. Overall, this engraving is worthy of additional conservation if desired for framing and display. This important engraving, "The Death of General Wolfe" is of a famous historical painting depicting the death of British General James Wolfe during the Battle of Quebec in 1759, a highly significant event in the Seven Years' War. The original oil painting was created by Anglo-American artist Benjamin West in 1770. The printed text below the image on this engraving reads:

"To the Kings most excellent Majesty this plate The Death of General Wolfe is with his Gracious permission must humbly dedicated by His Majesty's most dutiful subject and servant from the original in the collection of Lord Grosvenor, William Wollett Published AS THE ACT DIRECTS January 1, 1776 by Messrs. Wollett, Boydell & Ryland LONDON”.

The original oil painting of “The Death of General Wolfe” by Benjamin West (American, 1738-1820) was made in 1770 in commemoration of the 1759 Battle of Quebec, the scene showing the twelve soldiers and one Native American Indian surrounding the wounded British General James Wolfe. A mournful moment, he perished even as the battle for Quebec was won. As noted in Harrington's text: “Benjamin West must have been aware of previous representations... when he embarked on his own version...”. West’s exceptional painting was finished in 1770 and was exhibited at the Royal Academy London the following year. When it was shown, the public flocked to see the painting and some viewers were moved with emotion.

As many have noted, Benjamin West was “Historical Painter to His Majesty” and the first to elevate the depiction of a contemporary event to the level of historical painting. The painting attracted much discussion and King George III apparently told the artist that the modern clothing (of the day) "impaired the dignity of the subject"... but West felt that truth was more important than tradition. He felt that General Wolfe had died a “martyr” and deserved a monumental depiction that would recall scenes of earlier heroes, and the implication of self-sacrifice, courage and patriotism. In contrast to previous renditions of the event, West's painting was a narrative designed to provide a visual experience of the whole battle set in a proper sequence from right to left.

The popularity of [the] painting found support with Alderman Boydell of London, who was a shrewd business man who saw an opportunity to exploit the original picture's universal appeal. He commissioned William Woollett, being the “Official Engraver to His Majesty” to engrave the new work, and it was soon exhibited the finished print at the Society of Artists in 1776.

Woollett's engraving of "The Death of General Wolfe" became an iconic image in British and American art history, resonating with the themes of heroism, sacrifice, and national pride. It contributed to the romanticization. This engraved print was an immense success, and established Woolett's reputation. “Sales of the engraving on the European continent alone earned the engraver between six and seven thousand pounds, and by 1790 total receipts amounted to fifteen thousand pounds" (Credit: Maggs Bros, ltd., P. Harrington). The present engraving is a good impression that presents beautifully professionally mounted in a contemporary giltwood frame beneath special museum glass. It reads at the head of the title:

"To the King's most excellent Majesty", continuing... "This plate THE DEATH OF GENERAL WOLFE is with His gracious Permission humbly dedicated by his Majesty's most dutiful Subject & Servant, William Woollett. From the original Picture in the Collection of the Right and honourable Lord Grosvenor." It is further noted "By Messrs, Woollett, Boydell & Ryland, LONDON.", "Engraved by Wm. Woollett, Engraver to His Majesty", "Painted by B. West, Historical Painter to His Majesty" and "Published as the Act directs, January 1st 1776".

Museum holdings of this engraving include: Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Amherst College, the Jeffrey Amherst Collection Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, The Royal Academy, The British Museum, and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas.
William Woollett, an English engraver, produced a renowned engraving based on West's painting in 1776. Woollett's engraving skillfully reproduced the dramatic scene and captured the emotional intensity of the original artwork. His engraving of "The Death of General Wolfe" became immensely popular and widely reproduced, contributing to its enduring fame.

Boydell & Ryland, a London-based publishing company, was responsible for the publication and distribution of Woollett's engraving. John Boydell, the founder of the firm, was a prominent figure in the art world and played a significant role in popularizing and promoting British art. Boydell's publishing company specialized in producing high-quality prints and engravings, often featuring historical and landscape subjects.

Benjamin West (1738 - 1820) was an Anglo-American painter of historical scenes in the later quarter of the 18th Century. He was the Second President of London's Royal Academy, serving from 1792 to 1805 and from 1806 to 1820.

He was offered a knighthood by the British Crown, but declined it. From 1746 to 1759, West worked in Pennsylvania, mostly painting portraits. He studied under John Wollaston, who influenced West's technique. He was also a close friend of Benjamin Franklin.

After study in Italy, West re-located to England where he became known as The American Raphael. He then received Royal Patronage which ensured his career. He painted his most famous, and possibly most influential painting, The Death of General Wolfe, in 1770, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1771. Although originally snubbed by Sir Joshua Reynolds, and others as over ambitious, the painting became one of the most frequently reproduced images of the period.

In 1806 he painted The Death of Nelson. West died at his house in Newman Street, London, on 11 March 1820, and was buried in St Paul's Cathedral.

William Woollett (1735 - 1785) was a leading 18th century English engraver. He was born in Maidstone, into a family which originally came from the Netherlands. He was apprenticed to John Tinney, a London engraver, and studied in the St. Mary's Lane Academy.

His first important plate was from the "Niobe" of Richard Wilson, published by Boydell in 1761. After Benjamin West he engraved his fine plate of the "Battle of La Hogue" (1781), and "The Death of General Wolfe" (1776), which is usually considered Woollett's masterpiece.

In 1775 he was appointed Engraver-in-ordinary to George III; and he was a member of the Incorporated Society of Artists, of which for several years he acted as secretary. His works rank among the great productions of the English school of engraving.

Following an intensive artillery bombardment that reduced much of Quebec City to ruin, together with, a vigorous “scorched earth” policy of the French settlements along a fifty mile stretch of the south shore of the St. Lawrence. Some 3,700 French troops & marines (+ 10,000 civilians) under Louis Joseph Marquis de Montcalm (1712-59), faced a army of some 4,000 British regulars, militia and marines, the latter having spirited the force up the river during the previous 12 hours of darkness, due to excellent planning and accurate maps.

The British forces were under the command of 32 year old Brigadier-General James Wolfe, who's health and popularity were rapidly failing, this was to be his final winner-take-all trow of the dice. Wolfe's daring tactics and professionally trained soldiers won the 15 minute battle. Wolfe died on the battlefield and General Montcalm, who badly miscalculated his own actions, was mortally wounded and succumbed the following day.

Beacons were lit across Britain and commemorative medals struck in celebration of victory. Wolfe, 'the victor of Quebec', was given a hero's burial.

Twelve years later, Benjamin West exhibited his monumental canvas at the Royal Academy. The painting depicts the iconic heroic Death of Wolfe, and the triumph of British imperialism 1771. Naturally, it is also absurdly inaccurate.

The surgeon supposedly attending Wolfe was hundreds of miles away if in the country at all. Others appearing in the painting had other things to do on the field of battle other than attend a fallen officer. Some Key figures who were present do not appear at all. Those who despised Wolfe or refused to pay West's 'fee for inclusion' were simply not portrayed. Nevertheless the painting caused a sensation it was purchased by Lord Grosvenor to whom his print is dedicated, his descendent the Second Duke of Westminister presented the painting to Canada. In tribute to the role Canadians played in World War I, it now hangs in the National Gallery Ottawa.

King George ordered Benjamin West to make copies of this painting. One is now in the Royal Collection, and another was acquired by Robert Moncton, brother of the General portrayed in the painting, it is now displayed at the Royal Ontario Museum.
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