This dramatic Revolutionary War engraving of the Death of General Montgomery at Quebec is after the famous 1785 oil-on-canvas by John Trumbull. Capturing the intensity of the battle, the engraving centers on General Montgomery in his final moments, amid his attack on Quebec City in 1775.
General Richard Montgomery is famous for leading the American invasion of Canada in 1775. Born in Swords, Dublin in the Kingdom of Ireland in 1738, he served in the British Army, but then joined the American patriots and became a Major General in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. Taking over the invasion of Canada when Phillip Schulyer fell ill, General Montgomery captured Fort St. Johns and Montreal in November of 1775 and then advanced toward Quebec City. On December 31, 1775, General Montgomery led an attack against Quebec City but was killed in battle.
In the painting, and subsequent print, General Montgomery has fallen into the arms of Aaron Burr. “We shall be in the fort in two minutes,” General Montgomery said to Burr just before he was hit by a volley of grapeshot and collapsed into Burr’s arms. According to Samuel Spring, Burr tried to rally the men behind him and push on, but his orders were countermanded by the General’s successor. As other Americans retreated from the advancing Canadians, Aaron Burr stayed behind, valiantly trying to carry the body of General Montgomery to safety. Burr was a short, slighter man, and he sank deep in the snow as he carried General Montgomery’s larger, taller body for several yards, before it became clear his efforts would be futile and he fled to escape capture.
In late 1785, patriot-turned-painter Colonel John Trumbull resolved to devote himself to the depiction of Revolutionary War scenes, a series of eight epic pictures. From the beginning, Trumbull intended for the paintings to be later engraved for sale. Trumbull began the oil-on-canvas of The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker’s Hill and The Death of General Montgomery in the Attack of Quebec, in the studio of fellow painter and teacher Benjamin West in London. Bunker’s Hill was completed in March 1786; Trumbull started Attack of Quebec in February 1785 and finished before he brought it to Paris in 1786. He then started The Declaration of Independence oil on canvas at Thomas Jefferson's house in Paris.
As soon as Bunker’s Hill and Death of General Montgomery were completed, Trumbull sought to find a suitable engraver in London. He was unsuccessful, as many British engravers were nervous about engraving an American battle scene. He thus turned to Paris, Germany, and the Low Countries in hopes of finding an artisan skilled enough to engrave his epic series. Discouraged and still without a competent engraver to take his oils to the intaglio plate, Trumbull returned to the United States in November 1789. He temporarily worked on portraits and side projects. Over ten years later, in 1798, The Battle of Bunker’s Hill and The Death of General Montgomery were finally engraved by Johann Gotthard von Mueller (1747-1830) and published by Antonio C. de Poggi in London. Introduced to de Poggi through Benjamin West, Trumbull notes meeting "an Italian artist, by the name of Antonio di Poggi, of very superior talents as a draughtsman, and who had recently commenced the business of publishing."
By creating engravings of his paintings, Trumbull spread his conventional heroic pictures to audiences and consumers far beyond those who might see the original painting. As Trumbull wrote to John Eliot, “by having prints done… to bring them within the powers of our American purses,” the artist popularized the republican tradition of public memory, and in the process he envisioned a nation that encompassed both the reverence of heroes and popular participation. Trumbull wrote, “Historians will do justice to an area so important; but to be read, the language in which they write, must be understood – the language of Painting is universal, and intelligible in all nations, and every age.”
Due to the success of the first 1798 engraving by Johann Gotthard von Mueller, several later printings of the scene were published, including this 1808 print engraved by American engraver Chistian W. Ketterlinus. The Ketterlinus engraving is almost identical to the de Poggi original, save for changes in the title margin, which included the title in both English and French. This print was published for both the American and French populace. France was a great ally to the Americans during the Revolution, and given their strong diplomatic relationship, prints of the Revolution were very popular in Paris.
In good condition overall. Impression is strong. Light staining along bottom title margin, not obscuring title. Small tear in top right margin, which has been stabilized and repaired.
Engraving has been archivally framed in a custom black and gold wooden frame, UV glass, and acid-free mats. Framed Size: 27 1/2” H x 32 1/2” W x 1 1/2” D.
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