1759: Britain's Year of Victories
An electronic version of the Avenir Foundation Great Room exhibit 1759: Britain's Year of Victories, on display at the William L. Clements Library June 8, 2009 - October 9, 2009
Curated by Brian Leigh Dunnigan
Benjamin West’s iconic history painting, “The Death of General Wolfe,” has looked down on the Avenir Foundation Room of the Clements Library since it was acquired by William L. Clements in the late 1920s. It is surely the best-known image of the Seven Years’ War (or the French and Indian War as the American part of that global conflict is called in the United States). The painting commemorates the defeat of a French army at Québec on September 13, 1759, and apotheosizes the victorious British commander, Major General James Wolfe, who died on the field of battle. Idealized in almost every respect, West’s composition was intended to represent the triumph of British arms and the acquisition of a much-expanded empire rather than to realistically depict the event itself. A British officer, approaching from the left with a captured white regimental color, heralds the decline of French fortunes that, with the signing of a treaty of peace in 1763, would cost France most of her American empire.