Study for "The Death of General Wolfe", c. 1769
American, British, 1738
pen and black ink and oil paint on laid paper
43 x 61.4 cm irregular
Purchased 1984 with the assistance of a grant from the Government of Canada under the terms of the Cultural Property Export and Import Act
National Gallery of Canada (no. 28524)
After establishing his reputation with two pictures on Roman themes, the American expatriate West decided, unconventionally, to apply the formulae of History Painting to a recent military event, with figures clothed not in togas but in modern dress.The result was the National Gallery's "Death of General Wolfe", which from its exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1771 was considered his masterpiece and a turning point in British art. This highly finished drawing in an elaborate mixed-media technique represents the final preparatory study, or "modello", which is close in its general composition to the finished picture, but differs in many details.The most noticeable change was the reversal in the position of the grenadier and mourner on the far right. Although this is the only surviving study for the painting, West was a prolific draughtsman and must have made many other preliminary drawings.