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James Wolfe

James Wolfe, by Unknown artist, circa 1770 -NPG 1111 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Early Georgian Portraits Catalogue

James Wolfe

by Unknown artist
circa 1770
49 in. x 38 3/4 in. (1245 mm x 984 mm)
NPG 1111

This portraitback to top

Ascribed by the vendor to Gainsborough [1] 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 (see All Known Portraits). 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 [2] 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 The identity has from time to time been questioned and in 1924 the portrait was withdrawn from exhibition in the belief that the sash was the ribbon of the Bath.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.

Footnotesback to top

1) 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.
2) Among other suggestions Lt-Col. Ormond mentions the 20th foot (Lancashire Fusiliers) in his correspondence, 1913, NPG archives; for discussion, see J. F. Kerslake, 'The Likeness of Wolfe', Wolfe, Portraiture & Genealogy, Quebec House, 1959, pp 33-35.

Physical descriptionback to top

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.

Conservationback to top

Cleaned, lined and restored 1898; varnish slightly discoloured; probably unfinished.

Provenanceback to top

Bought, 1897, through W. S. Green of Leicester Square, acting on behalf of an undisclosed client; earlier history unknown.

Exhibitionsback to top

'Some Portraits of General Wolfe 1727-1759', NPG, 1959 (5).

This extended catalogue entry is from the out-of-print National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: John Kerslake, Early Georgian Portraits, Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1977, and is as published then. For the most up-to-date details on individual Collection works, we recommend reading the information provided in the Search the Collection results on this website in parallel with this text.

View all known portraits for James Wolfe


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