Friday, September 11, 2015

Death of James Wolfe by Edward Penny

Edward Penny was a noted British artist of the 18th Century.  He was born in 1714 and died in 1791.  He painted military subjects and was known to be accurate in his details. The Seven Years' War comprised some of his subject matter, and no part of the Seven Years' War was more dramatic than the 1759 Battle of the Plains of Abraham.  In that battle, British General James Wolfe and his army climbed the cliffs of Quebec and landed on the Plains of Abraham.  From this position, they could attack and conquer the city of Quebec on its landward side.  The French general the Marquis de Montcalm attacked Wolfe's men on the Plains.  In the ensuing battle, the British demolished the French attack and both commanders were mortally wounded.

This painting shows James Wolfe in a plain red coat.  His right hand is bandaged from a wound suffered earlier in the day.  He is supported by a volunteer named James Henderson, of the grenadier company of the 28th Regiment.  The man in green is Surgeon's Mate Hewitt. (1)  Just to the left of Wolfe is a man running with his hat in his hand.  He is Lieutenant Brown of the 22nd Regiment's grenadier company and he announced the news of the victory to Wolfe.

Interestingly, both grenadiers wear caps with some sort of circular motif, much like the British Order of the Garter.  David Morier in a series of paintings c. 1751 depicts the 28th's grenadier caps with a "GR" (for George Rex, rex meaning king).  He has no hint of circular badges.  Could these unique caps have been issued for service in North America?  Or could this be a regimental distinction which the 28th adopted?

On the far left of the picture, a sergeant (with a halberd) or an officer (with a spontoon) watches the fire of his men.  By looking very carefully, some Frenchmen and their flag can be seen withstanding the British firing line.  Just behind Volunteer Henderson's shoulder is a man in a cut-down tricorn hat and short blue coat.  He is likely a sailor, for a detachment of sailors was landed to help Wolfe with the cannons.

(1). pg. 82, Quebec 1759 by Stuart Reid (Osprey: 2003)

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