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Gainsborough mystery portrait of General Wolfe painted for the girl he left behind for sale at Bonhams
The portrait poses something of a mystery. It was almost certainly commissioned by the family of Katherine Lowther who became Wolfe’s fiancée in 1758 during his preparations for the military expedition to Quebec. Photo: Bonhams.


LONDON.- A painting by the English artist Thomas Gainsborough, widely believed to be a portrait of General James Wolfe, is to be offered at Bonhams Old Master Paintings Sale in London on 3 December. It is estimated at £120,000-180,000.

The portrait poses something of a mystery. It was almost certainly commissioned by the family of Katherine Lowther who became Wolfe’s fiancée in 1758 during his preparations for the military expedition to Quebec.

Katherine was the sister of James Lowther, later Earl of Lonsdale, and she and Wolfe had met casually before. They renewed their acquaintance while he was on leave in Bath and by the time he sailed for Canada in 1759 they were engaged to be married.

Any correspondence between the pair has been lost so it is impossible to know the depth of their feelings for each other. There is some suggestion that Wolfe may have been principally concerned with placating his elderly and ailing parents who were keen to see their son settle down and marry advantageously. They had deeply disapproved when, in 1747, he had fallen in love with Elizabeth Lawson, a niece of his brigade commander in Flanders, Sir John Mordaunt. This led to a family rift and a prolonged bout of dissipation on Wolfe’s part as he attempted to drown his sorrows. Later, while visiting his uncle, Major Walter Wolfe, in Dublin, James met an unnamed widow of an officer and the close nature of their relationship is evident from the fact that she would later be lampooned by George (the future 1st Marquess) Townshend as Wolfe's 'Irish Venus'.

Wolfe died leading his troops at the Battle of Quebec. His role in the capture of the city, the subsequent capture of Montreal and the effective end of the Seven Years War between Britain and France made him into a national hero. His grieving fiancée Katherine Lowther eventually married Harry Powlett, sixth Duke of Bolton.






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