A portrait of General James Wolfe set against the Plains of Abraham at Quebec where he heroically lost his life in a battle against the French is expected to fetch £80,000-120,000 when it is auctioned at the Old Master Paintings sale on Wednesday 7th July at Bonhams
, New Bond Street.
William Pitt the Elder appointed Wolfe to lead the British assault on Quebec in 1759. The resulting Battle of the Plains of Abraham (or the Battle of Quebec) is one of the most celebrated events in British military history and a pivotal victory in the Seven Years War. The confrontation, which began on 13 September 1759, was fought between the British Army and Navy, and the French Army, on a plateau just outside the walls of Quebec City. The culmination of a three-month siege by the British, the British troops commanded by General James Wolfe successfully resisted the column advance of French troops. The General led his troops up precipitous wooded cliffs with their guns at night, so the French awoke to be confronted by the British on the plains in front of Quebec. Wolfe was mortally wounded during the battle and died on the field, yet it proved to be a deciding moment in the conflict between France and Britain.
Wolfe was renowned by his troops for being demanding on himself and them. His last victory earned him posthumous fame, most notably celebrated in Benjamin Wests epic canvas of 1771, The Death of General Wolfe, which became one of the most frequently reprinted images of the period, selling thousands of engravings. At this time Wolfes heroic reputation was second to none until Nelsons equally pyrrhic victory at Trafalgar 46 years later.
According to family tradition the posthumous portrait is by Sir Joshua Reynolds, but although it shares similarities of style with him it is now attributed to the Circle of Joseph Highmore. Highmore was a British artist known for his portraits and historical paintings, and this work resembles a portrait he painted of Wolfe which is in the National Archives of Canada. Of the Highmore portraits this is the only one left in private hands.
Andrew Mackenzie, Director of Old Master Paintings, comments, Among my early schoolboy memories is being taught about Wolfes celebrated victory at Quebec. Rarely does one have the opportunity to sell a major portrait of such a momentous historical figure.