The Death of General Wolfe
Engravingpublished 1 January 1776
About the work
This scene represents the death of British General James Wolfe, during the Battle of Quebec, in 1759. The dying General is being watched and attended to by his concerned comrades. When the original work was painted, this subject was a recent event of military history. However, such a depiction of an almost contemporary scene, including characters in current clothing, was unusual for history paintings of the time. The original work, painted in 1770, is now in the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. William Woollett began to make an engraving after the painting in 1772, accepting a third share in publication costs. The print was a great success and made a considerable profit for the engraver.
About the artist
William Woollett was the son of an innkeeper, from Maidstone, Kent. In 1750 he was apprenticed to John Tinney at the Goldsmith’s Company. By 1759, he was studying at St Martin’s Lane Academy. Three years later he married Hannah but, after their five children died in infancy, Hannah also died in 1770. Woollett was later remarried to Elizabeth. His earliest prints are of country houses and gardens, after his own designs. He was first employed by John Boydell in 1760. His engraving after Richard Wilson’s ‘The Destruction of the Children of Niobe’ won him considerable critical acclaim and, as a result, Alan Ramsay invited him to engrave his portrait of George III. Woollett reportedly died ‘from the effect of an accident, unskilfully treated’.
Benjamin West was born in Springfield, Pennsylvania. He received some training, probably from John Valentine Haidt, before travelling to Italy in 1760. Whilst there, West met German painter and art critic Anton Raphael Mengs and Scottish history painter Gavin Hamilton. In 1763, he settled in London and exhibited mainly historical subjects, which were well received. In 1772, he became historical painter to King George III and, in 1791, surveyor of the King's pictures - a lucrative position. A founding member of the Royal Academy, West exhibited there from 1769 to 1819 and succeeded Sir Joshua Reynolds as President. As well as painting history subjects, he also painted portraits and landscapes and designed stained-glass.