James (later General) Wolfe is here shown as a boy. The original version of this work shows Wolfe with a plan of the Battle of Blenheim laid out before him and a drawing of fortifications, titled ‘Bergen Op Zoom’, in his right hand. This less detailed version shows them as blank sheets. The three books behind Wolfe include the History of England, while on the left of the composition is a display of armour.
As an American painter (based in Britain), it is unsurprising that Benjamin West chose to paint General James Wolfe’s death at Quebec in 1759. West’s ‘Death of General Wolfe’, completed in 1770, remains his best-known work. However, several years later he was commissioned to paint Wolfe as a boy. The work was commissioned by General George Warde (1725-1803) as a pendant for West’s portrait of Warde’s nephew (a boyhood friend of Wolfe), and remains in the collection of the Warde family at Squerryes Court, Kent. West painted another version for Lord Grosvenor, purchaser of the original version of ‘Death of General Wolfe’. This third version compares well with the original and may be by West or his studio assistants.
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.
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