Despite being president of the Royal Academy for almost 30 years, Benjamin West (1738-1820) is a much-neglected artist these days. The painting is probably his best known work and was considered revolutionary in the genre of history painting because of the artist’s depiction of the figures in contemporary rather than authentic historic dress, while the landscape is generally acknowledged to be true to the Plains of Abraham outside Quebec.
Wolfe, who was leading the British forces against the French at Quebec in September 1759, is shown fatally wounded as a foot soldier approaches from the right bearing the captured French standard and news of victory.
The oil on panel, measuring 17 by 24in (43.2 x 61cm), which had been in a private European collection since 1929, was catalogued with a modest $180,000-200,000 estimate, but the immense interest it attracted from private buyers, the trade and institutions throughout the US, Canada and Europe, saw it finally knocked down at $2,633,000 (£1,880,715) to a member of the American trade bidding in the room.
Benjamin West’s painting of The Death of General Wolfe.
NEW YORK: There was a flurry of activity at the Phillips New York (buyer’s premium 15/10%) auction of American Art last week as Benjamin West’s renowned painting of The Death of General Wolfe came up for sale.