The Myth of North America, in One Painting

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tags: art history, Canadian history, Quebec, Seven Years War

Editor's Note: This text is exerpted from an interactive page which allows the reader to scan parts of a large painting while viewing annotations. Reading the text here does not do justice to how interactive technology is used, so HNN readers are urged to visit the Times to view the source.


The Seven Years’ War — what Americans call the French and Indian War — was, in Winston Churchill’s estimation, the true first world war. French and British forces clashed on five continents, from the Caribbean to Senegal to India and the Philippines.

“The Death of General Wolfe,” painted by Benjamin West in 1770, depicts the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, outside Quebec City. It was the turning point in a war that would end with the British takeover of French colonies from Quebec to Florida.

In 1770, neither the United States nor Canada had yet been established. But West’s painting — the first by an American artist to gain international renown — stands at the origin of a New World narrative that would stubbornly endure in both countries for centuries.

West’s painting drew upon the real events of the day, and cloaked them in romance. At its center is Maj. Gen. James Wolfe, commander of the British forces in the continent’s northeast.


Read entire article at New York Times