Early Georgian Portraits Catalogue: Wolfe
The following text is from the National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: John Kerslake, Early Georgian Portraits, Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1977 (now out of print). For the most up to date research on the Collection, we recommend reading the information provided in the Search the Collection results on this website in parallel with this text. This can be accessed by following the link with each portrait’s title.
In consulting the following, please note that apart from the reformatting which allows the printed catalogue to be made available on-line the text is as published in 1977. Footnotes in the original edition are given within square brackets.
James Wolfe (1727-59)
General; conqueror of Quebec; born at Westerham Vicarage, Kent, eldest son of General Edward Wolfe; entered the army 1742; in Flanders, 1743, fought at Dettingen the following year; served in Scotland 1745-46, and 1749-52; brigade-major in the Netherlands, 1747; major, 20th foot, 1749, and lieutenant-colonel, 1750; studied in Paris, 1752-53, returned to his regiment in Scotland, 1753; quartered at Exeter, 1754-55, and at Canterbury, 1755-56; introduced system of manoeuvres which long remained in use; quartermaster-general in Ireland, 1757-58, and in the expedition against Rochefort, 1758; served with the rank of colonel under General Amherst against Cape Breton; as major-general sailed with 9,000 men from England, February 1759, in command of the expedition to capture Quebec, died in the hour of victory, 13 September.
688 By Lady Elizabeth Foster (afterwards Duchess of Devonshire)
Pencil and watercolour on paper, 7 ¾ x 4 ¾ in. (197 x 121 mm); characteristic pointed nose, chin more rounded than usually shown, pink cheek, own (?) hair flowing low down in front and gathered with a black ribbon behind; scarlet jacket with blue facings and yellow button plates.
Written across the top: The underwritten lines were found in his / pocket after he was killed Sepbr. 12th. 1759 and below (both in the Duchess's hand): But since ignoble age* the words are missing]  — must come / Disease & Death's inexorable Doom, / That life which others pay let us bestow / And give to fame what we to .Nature owe: / Brave let us fall, or honor' d if we live, / Or let us Glory gain, or glory give –/ Such, Men shall own deserve a Sov’reign State / Envied by those who dare not Imitate.
Attributed in the Spencer-Clifford sale catalogue, 1883, to the 3rd Duke of Devonshire and by Scharf to the 4th Duke, NPG 688 is a posthumous interpretation loosely based on the profile type (seediscussion under NPG 713A below) executed in all probability by Lady Elizabeth Foster,  second wife of the 5th Duke. Other drawings by her were in the same sale and a stylistic resemblance between NPG 688 and a landscape drawing by her in the library at Chatsworth was noticed in 1931 by the then librarian Francis Thompson.  He also confirmed the handwriting on the portrait as the Duchess's.
Condition:pale blue paper now faded and turning brown; wear along lines where originally folded to envelope size 4 ¼ x 3 1/8 in. (109 x 80 mm).
Collections:presented, 1883, by Lord Ronald Sutherland Gower, purchaser at the Lady Spencer-Clifford sale, 27 June 1883, lot 98; previously in the possession of the artist and possibly also of Lady Caroline Lamb. 
Exhibited:(Wolfe bicentenary), Quebec House, Westerham, 1959.
48 Attributed to J.S.C. Schaak
Oil on canvas, 20 ¾ x 17 in. (527 x 432 mm); blue eye, receding chin, own light brown hair tied in queue; black tricorne hat with rosette, white shirt and ruffle, black neck-tie, yellow-lined scarlet jacket, plain silver buttons, aigrette (?) running from his right shoulder through top buttonhole of right lapel; background of blue and brown sky.
Attribution rests on the head and shoulders engraving in oval frame by R. Houston lettered J.S.C. Schaak Pinxt. (CS 128). Published not later than 1767,  it shows the sitter hatless, at slightly greater length than in NPG 48 and with crêpe on his left sleeve.  Schaak's connection with Wolfe is more firmly established, however, by the small whole length portraits, one of which was presumably the 'small whole length of General Wolfe' exhibited at the Free Society of Artists, 1762 (13). This type, also engraved by Houston (CS 127), is lettered in the first state Hery Smith Esqr Delin. I.S.C.Schaak Pinx. but in the second state Hery—Pinx has been erased and replaced by From an Original picture in the Possession of Hery. Smith Esqr.. A portrait of the type formerly in the Duke of Richmond's collection at Goodwood  was signed and dated 1766, and another, of the same size as the engraving and perhaps related to it, was at Sotheby's as by 'Phillips', 23 March 1966, lot 55, from the Fletcher of Saltoun collection. On the back a manuscript note reading Gen. Wolfe presented by himself to Gen. Henry Fletcher has been accepted as evidence that it was painted in Canada. There is no proof, however, that Schaak was ever there.
A stylistic comparison of NPG 48 with Schaak's portrait of Charles Churchill (q.v., above) is convincing. An x-radiograph  reveals that the artist abandoned a three-quarter face to the left, probably of the same sitter, with the direction of the eye altered in favour of the profile. The earlier design shows a coat with pointed lapels.
Condition:two small repairs in the background above his left shoulder; cleaned 1895.
Collections:presented, 1858, by Leopold I, King of the Belgians, possibly from the collection of his first wife,  Princess Charlotte (1796-1817); earlier history unknown.
Exhibited:'Some Portraits of General Wolfe 1727-1759', NPG, 1959 (8).
NPG 713A is a tracing by the Hon. Harold Dillon of the profile attributed to ‘Harvey Smith', i.e. Sir Hervey Smyth, 3rd Bart (1734-1811), traditionally believed to have been made in the field before Wolfe's death and thereafter the source of the most popular image of the sitter. The original with Townshend's sketch and the Squerryes portrait (seeIconography, below) may be the only ad vivum and probably the last account of Wolfe. A crude whole length line print, profile to the left and wearing a hat, one of a group of engravings published not later than 1760, without date, artist or engraver's name, is lettered Engraved for the Grand Mag. Printed R. Griffiths London.  The magazine referred to is either the Grand Magazine of Magazines which ceased publication in 1759 or the Grand Magazine of Universal Intelligence, ceased 1760, the year after Wolfe's death. Inthe whole length engraving by Houston (CS 127) and the head and shoulders by Spooner (CS 37), with the face similar to Houston's (CS 128), 'Smith' is named as author, but by the second state (seeNPG 48 above) he is given as owner.  Smyth, after Townshend, was the most significant of the four officers in Wolfe's entourage to whom draughtsmanship has been attributed, but he is known only through engravings of topographical subjects. An inscription in ink on the back of the original, formerly owned by the Royal United Service Institution  and now at Quebec House, Westerham, reads: This sketch belonged to Lt Coln Gwillim, A.D. Camp to Genl Wolfe when he was killed—It is supposed to have been sketched by Harvey Smith, and in another hand in pencil: This profile of General Wolfe from which his bust was principally taken was hastily sketched by Hervey Smith, on[e] of his Aid de Camps, a very short time before that distinguished officer was killed on the Plains of Abrham—It then came into the possession of Colonel Gwillian another of the Generals Aid de Camps, who died afterwards at Gibraltar; & from him to Mrs Sinclair, the Colonel's only daughter and heiress then to Major General Darling (who was on General Sincalair's Staff;) & is now presented by him to His Grace the Duke of Northumberland, Alnwick 23 Jany 1832. A third note briefly confirms the above and the presentation to the Royal United Service Institution by the Duke of Northumberland.  Provenance is circumstantial and the earliest of the inscriptions records only that it is 'supposed' to have been sketched by 'Harvey Smith'. Another copy, on the Institution's crested paper, was presented to them in 1913 by Lieutenant L.V. Henderson.
Condition:paper turning brown, a spot level with the eye and two small darker ones in the collar.
Collections:presented, 1884, by the Hon. Harold Dillon, FSA.
1111 By an unknown artist
Oil on canvas, 49 x 38 ¾ in. (1245 x 985 mm); blue eyes, full lips, plump face, reddish-brown hair; scarlet jacket with buff facings, waistcoat and cuffs with white lace edging, white lace around collar, red sash over his right shoulder; his left hand rests on a drawn sword; in the background a fort set in hilly landscape under a cloudy sky, troops bottom left; lit from the right.
Ascribed by the vendor to Gainsborough  and in earlier NPG catalogues to Highmore, NPG 1111 appears to derive from the head of c.1744 by an unknown artist at Squerryes Court during its 'red hair' period, 1777-1822 (seeIconography, below). The technique is of c.1770.The portrait is perhaps a commemorative commission for one of the regiments in which Wolfe served but in the present state of knowledge it is not possible to be more precise  other than to note that since the sash of the period would have been of net, and not of the thick material depicted, the dress is unlikely to represent a contemporary uniform. The absence of buttons may mean no more than that the picture remained unfinished. The identity has from time to time been questioned and in 1924 the portrait was withdrawn from exhibition in the belief that the sash was the ribbon of the Bath. It was re-instated in 1959. Wolfe's younger brother Edward has also been suggested but a posthumous demand for portraits of this young man, only a subaltern in 1744 when he met his death, seems most unlikely. The closeness to the Squerryes head should dispose of doubts concerning the identity.
Condition:cleaned, lined and restored 1898; varnish slightly discoloured; probably unfinished.
Collections:bought, 1897, through W.S. Green of Leicester Square, acting on behalf of an undisclosed client; earlier history unknown.
Exhibited:'Some Portraits of General Wolfe 1727-1759', NPG, 1959 (5).
4415 By Joseph Wilton, c.1760
Putty-colour plaster bust, 29 ¾ in. (756 mm) high, including base; pupils incised, long finely marked eyebrows, receding chin, hair swept back from forehead, falling in a queue over his right shoulder; classical armour with punning device of wolf's head shoulder pieces, gorget, sash over his left shoulder.
NPG 4415 is apparently the earliest and least idealised of surviving busts by Wilton. The original was possibly a commission from the Duke of Richmond who 'had a mind to have a statue of General Wolfe. Wilton, the statuary went down to Portsmouth,  and opened the coffin newly brought over to try to take off his face but it was too much distorted. They found out a servant of Lord Gower who was like Wolfe, and Wilton was ordered to model his face, and Lord Edgcumbe was to correct it from memory.' 
After a successful period of study in Rome, Naples and Florence, Wilton (1722-1803) returned to England in 1755, and in 1758, with his friend Giovanni Battista Cipriani, the decorative painter, was chosen co-director of the gallery of painting and sculpture opened 'for gratuitous instruction to students' by Charles Lennox, 3rd Duke of Richmond and Lennox, in his house at Whitehall.  No bust is recorded at Goodwood, and if one had been completed for the Duke, it was perhaps lost in the fire of 1791 which destroyed the London house. The only 'statue' known is the monument of 1772 in Westminster Abbey (seeIconography).
A comparison with the fine marble, undated but inscribed with the artist's name, at Dalmeny , and the bronze cast from the Westerham plaster (seeNPG 2225 below), shows the head in NPG 4415 less erect and a differently shaped gorget lying bent between the planes of the curiass and sash. The Westerham type lacks the gorget. All Wilton's surviving sculpture have the sloping forehead and receding chin of Smyth's profile.  NPG 4415 appears to be the most naturalistic in treatment.
Condition:colour variations between dark grey and light putty suggest use of paint when executed; small cracks in his left shoulder and elsewhere.
Collections:bought, 1964, from H.M. Calmann of Bruton Place; earlier history unknown.
2225 After Joseph Wilton
Bronze bust, 29 ¾ in. (756 mm), including oval socle; in armour with wolf's head device as in NPG 4415.
Similar to NPG 4415 but without a gorget, the bust is one of a small modern edition cast in bronze for the donor from a plaster purchased from the grandson of the Rev. Richard Board, vicar of Westerham, 1792-1859. Another cast was presented by the donor to Quebec House. The plaster from which these were cast is in the Public Archives of Canada, Ottawa.
Collections:given, 1928, by Sir Robert Leicester Harmsworth, Bart.
Exhibited:'Some Portraits of General Wolfe 1727-1759', NPG 1959 (10).
Literature: Augustus Hervey's Journal, ed. D. Erskine, 1953; J.F. Kerslake, 'The Likeness of Wolfe', Wolfe, Portraiture & Genealogy, Quebec House, 1959.
Wolfe became famous only in death and the iconography ever since has been bedevilled by spurious and doubtful items. A list of ad vivum or immediately posthumous portraits was completed in 1959  to which the one major addition is the bust by Wilton acquired by the NPG in 1964 (NPG 4415 above).
A head to the left by an unknown and not very skilled hand, still with the Warde family at Squerryes Court was painted, according to tradition, c.1744  for the sitter's boyhood friend General George Warde (1725-1803).  The portrait is almost certainly the source of NPG 1111 (seeabove) as also of those by Highmore and Benjamin West (seebelow). There is a strong tradition supported by extrinsic evidence that from at least 1777 to 1822 the powdered wig in the Squerryes portrait was over-painted red in imitation of the natural colour of Wolfe's hair.  A posthumous portrait by West signed and dated 1777 shows Wolfe seated with his left elbow on a plan of Blenheim and a plan of Bergen Op Zoom in his right hand; The hair is red. The artist's receipt on the back of the portrait reads 'Received of Genl. Warde Twenty nine pounds eight shillings, for a small picture of Genl. Wolfe when a Boy with one of Mr. Warde as a companion. Jany. 21st 1778 . . .'. Both portraits are still at Squerryes Court. The miniature at Quebec House, c.1822,by an unknown artist, also shows red hair.  A head and shoulders acquired in 1932 by the Public Archives of Canada, Ottawa from the Scobell Armstrong family, also to the left with a hat tucked under his left arm, was sketched by Scharf in 1858.  An inscription painted on the back states that it was executed by Highmore c.1742for the sitter's friend and tutor the Rev. Samuel Francis Swinden (d.1764),  and was the only portrait for which Wolfe ever sat. There is no contemporary evidence that Highmore ever had an independent sitting nor any mention of a portrait in Wolfe's or Swinden's lifetime, or in the latter's will, proved October 1764. The inscription, according to Miss Armstrong in 1900, was composed by her grandfather Colonel Armstrong on the authority of his mother-in-law (d.1835) who was a daughter of the Rev. Swinden, possibly Susanna whose daughter Mary Anne Gurnell married John Armstrong. The connection appears to be supported by the publication in 1930 of a portrait in J.W. Scobell Armstrong's collection, stated to represent Mrs Swinden, painted in 1744 by Highmore.  A repetition of the Highmore is in the Sigmund Samuel collection, Toronto, and an eighteenth-century adaptation was owned by the late Brigadier Williams of Scorrier House, Penzance. 
A portrait to the right, in watercolours, by George, 1st Marquess Townshend (1724-1807), politician, and one of Wolfe's brigadiers, was presumably drawn before Quebec in the summer of 1759. Inscribed as a gift from the artist to Isaac Barré, Wolfe's adjutant-general, it is believed thereafter to have been in the Amherst collection and bequeathed, 1919, with Townshend's caricatures  of the sitter, to the McCord Museum, McGill University, Montreal. Considering Townshend's reputedly bad relations with Wolfe, it is an unusually straightforward and apparently friendly account. Profiles attributed to other officers, apart from Smyth and Townshend, include drawings by Montresor, engraved B. Killingbeck, 1783 (O'D19) and W. De Laune, New Brunswick Museum, Canada. Wilton's monument in Westminster Abbey completed in 1772 is the best known of sculpted portraits. It is close to his earlier and also posthumous bust taken from Lord Gower's servant (seeNPG 4415 above). Of the many paintings devoted to the 'Death of Wolfe', the most famous is by West, signed and dated 1770, presented, 1918, from the Grosvenor collection to the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. A replica was painted for George III (Millar, 1969, 1167).
1. The bracketed words are added above the line.
2. William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire (1748-1811), married first, 1774, Georgiana Spencer (1757-1806) and second, in 1809, Elizabeth, second daughter of Frederick August Hervey, 4th Earl of Bristol, and widow of John Thomas Foster (d.1796); she died without issue, 1824, aged 64.
3. Correspondence, NPG archives.
4. Scharf, p.483. Lady Caroline Lamb (1785-1828), through her mother Lady Henrietta Frances Spencer, was related to the Devonshires and educated at Devonshire House, DNB, XI, pp.421-22.
5. Kerslake, pl.18.
6. In mourning for his father, died 27 March 1759.
7. i.e. Hervey Smyth, see discussion under NPG 713A below; also CS, pp.693-94.
8. Reproduced J.S.A.H.R., 1936, p.1.
9. Promoted general in 1793.
10. Carried out at the suggestion of C.K. Adams, 1965.
11. O. Millar, correspondence 1959, NPG archives.
12. The Hon. Harold (Arthur) Dillon, FSA, afterwards 17th Viscount Dillon; chairman of the Trustees of NPG, 1908-28.
13. Son of Sir Robert Smyth, 2nd Bart, who married, 1731, Louisa, second daughter of John, Earl of Bristol: Burke, Extinct and Dormant Baronetcies . . ., 1841, p.495. Seealso Erskine, pp.308-09, Scharf, pp.483-84, and NPG 713Apicture dossier.
14. Impression in NPG library.
15. No complete holdings in UK, but see portrait of Wolfe indexed in 1760, volume W. Gregory, Union List of Serials, 1943, p.1144 in the Watkinson Library, Trinity College, Connecticut
16. CS, pp.693-94 (127), the change implying perhaps that 'Smith' owned a whole length, now lost.
17. Collection dispersed c.1959; reproduced Kerslake, pl.23.
18. Ibid, p.42.
19. Apparently mistaken for the head and shoulders once known as the sitter, now at Foxwold from Mrs Gibbon's collection, at Christie's, 5 May 1883, lot 23.
20. Among other suggestions Lt-Col. Ormond mentions the 20th foot (Lancashire Fusiliers) in his correspondence, 1913, NPG archives; for discussion, see Kerslake, pp.33-35.
21. The body reached Portsmouth, November 1759.
22. Anecdotes, V, p.156.
23. DNB, XXI, p.623.
24. Exh. 'Some Portraits of General Wolfe 1727-1759', NPG, 1959 (9); Kerslake, reproduced pl.22.
25. Kerslake, pp.40-41.
26. Ibid, pp.17-43.
27. Date given on the label but from the sitter's appearance possibly earlier, c.1740.
28. Alternatively bought, 1764, from Wolfe's estate, see Kerslake, pp.22-24.
29. Kerslake, p.22, pl.2.
30. The above reproduced Kerslake, pls 3, 4, 5.
31. NPG archives.
32. J.Foster, Alumni Oxonienses, 1715-1886, 1888, p.1378.
33. Kerslake, pp.26ff; reproduced Connoisseur, LXXXVI, 1930, opposite p.216.34. Reproduced Kerslake, pls.8, 9.35. The majority reproduced in W.T.Waugh, James Wolfe: Man and Soldier, 1928.
Become a Member
Enjoy access to special events, discounts on the Gallery online shop, supporters’ updates and much more
Bringing people together by sharing the portraits and stories of the men and women who have shaped our nation.
Sign up to receive information on exhibitions, collections and activities of the National Portrait Gallery, including special offers, shop products, and exclusive competitions.