The Death of General Wolfe (1770) by Benjamin West

The Death of General Wolfe - Benjamin West - 1770

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Artwork Information

TitleThe Death of General Wolfe
ArtistBenjamin West
MediumOil on Canvas
Dimensions151 x 213 cm
Art MovementRococo
Current LocationNational Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

About The Death of General Wolfe

“The Death of General Wolfe” is a significant historical oil painting completed by artist Benjamin West in 1770. The artwork, measuring 151 x 213 cm, is executed in a style that, while often associated with the Rococo movement, also heralds the emergence of neoclassical tendencies. As a genre of history painting, it portrays a pivotal moment in the Seven Years’ War. The artwork is currently located at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.

In the artwork, General James Wolfe is depicted in his final moments during the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, part of the British campaign to capture Quebec from the French in 1759. Wolfe is shown lying on the ground, his uniform in disarray from the battle, and his red coat vivid against the muted tones of the surrounding landscape. His face is upturned, and his eyes are closed, suggesting his imminent death or perhaps the moment just after.

Surrounding Wolfe is a group of figures demonstrating various emotions, from grief to stoic resolve. Each individual is rendered with a high degree of detail, bringing a sense of gravitas and solemnity to the scene. Among these figures, a Native American warrior is seated to the left, portraying an ethnographic interest typical of the era, and might also symbolize the complex role of indigenous peoples in the conflict.

Above this intimate gathering, a British flag is held aloft, signifying the victory that Wolfe’s sacrifice has secured, but also adding to the theatrical composition of the piece. The background reveals a smoke-filled sky, indicating the chaos and turmoil of war, juxtaposed against a quiet, distant landscape, which may imply the far-reaching consequences of the battle. Benjamin West’s bold choice to depict contemporary figures in a historical scene marked a departure from the classical traditions of the time, adding to the drama and emotional impact of the artwork.

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