The Marquis de Montcalm, hero of the Seven Years' War

The Marquis de Montcalm, hero of the Seven Years' War

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Title: Death of the Marquis de Montcalm in the battle of Quebec on September 13, 1759. [after François Watteau]

Author : ANCHOR Fair (1729 - 1802)

Creation date : 1783

Date shown: September 13, 1759

Dimensions: Height 50.2 cm - Width 63 cm

Technique and other indications: etching and chisel

Storage place: National Museum of the Palace of Versailles (Versailles) website

Contact copyright: © RMN - Grand Palais (Palace of Versailles) / All rights reserved

Picture reference: 79-007041 / invgravures5382

Death of the Marquis de Montcalm in the battle of Quebec on September 13, 1759. [after François Watteau]

© RMN - Grand Palais (Palace of Versailles) / All rights reserved

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

Louis-Joseph de Montcalm de Saint-Véran was born on February 28, 1712 at the Château de Candiac, near Nîmes. Very young, he was initiated into the profession of arms and, thanks to his father, became lieutenant-colonel of the Hainaut infantry regiment.

After leading a company during the War of the Polish Succession, the young man participated in the War of the Austrian Succession, during which he was wounded. Shortly after, in 1741, he obtained the office of colonel of the Auxerrois regiment, then was knighted in the order of Saint-Louis.

At 31, his career seems to have a bright future. In January 1756, Mr. d'Argenson, Minister of War, had him appointed commander of His Majesty's troops in North America. Five months later, she set sail for Canada; it reached Quebec on May 13, then Montreal on the 16.

The Seven Years' War, which broke out between France, Austria and Russia on one side and England and Prussia on the other, allowed him to shine. He died on September 14, 1759 during the Battle of Quebec, in front of the English troops commanded by James Wolfe, another young general who was also killed there. The two men then become heroic figures in French and British military memory.

Image Analysis

This print in return evoking the tragic death of the Marquis de Montcalm is taken from a drawing long attributed to Louis Watteau (1731-1798). In fact, the brown and gray wash on a drawing in black chalk and red chalk heightened with white chalk, kept at the National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa), was produced in 1782 and then exhibited at the Salon de Lille in 1783 by François Watteau (1758-1823), son of the previous one and grand-nephew of Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721), famous painter of the beginning of the XVIIIe century.

The drawing was engraved by Juste Chevillet in 1783, then a year later by P.-A. Martini, the two prints establishing his fame. But this recognition, drawing and engraving owe it to another print, very popular throughout Europe, by William Woollett (1735-1785), made in 1776 from the famous painting by Benjamin West (1738-1820) , The Death of General Wolfe (1770, National Gallery of Canada). In this work, West breaks free from a number of conventions and, by rejecting the traditional antique costume in favor of the 18th century uniforme century, contemporizes historical painting to a degree hitherto rarely achieved.

Like West, François Watteau composes his work from a group of men gathered in front of the body of the dying military leader. If Woollett faithfully engraves West's original painting, both Chevillet and Martini respect the general composition of the drawing, while modifying many details.


Watteau's drawing and West's painting encourage French and British patriotic sentiment. In view of the success of West's work, it can reasonably be argued that Watteau wanted to establish "a French and patriotic counterweight to the English board" (Gaëtane Maës), while the American War of Independence was about to end. to finish.

Watteau's drawing develops a much stronger expressive feeling than West's painting, which is based more on meditation. The French soldiers testify in a very expressive and theatrical way their anxiety and their sorrow: an aide-de-camp comes to collect the last words of the young general, while in the distance, the battle is still fiercely engaged.

Probably for the sake of exoticism, the engraver adds a palm tree in front of the general's tent, in an unusual touch to say the least. Likewise, perhaps to evoke West's painting, Chevillet represents at the feet of Montcalm two Amerindians releasing shards of cannonballs. It has been argued that Watteau gathered details of the circumstances of Montcalm's death from former officers. If certain elements corroborate this, the artist however, in a bias of grandiloquence, makes his hero die on the battlefield, while his death takes place in a house in Quebec where he had been transported. But the historical truth matters little to Watteau, who seeks above all to demonstrate the courage and determination of Montcalm.

  • battles
  • Louis XV
  • colonial history
  • United Kingdom


COLLECTIVE, Company conflicts in French Canada during the Seven Years' War and their influence on operations, conference proceedings (Ottawa, 1978), Vincennes, Service historique de l’armée de terre, 1978.DZIEMBOWSKI Edmond, A New French Patriotism (1750-1770): France Confronted with English Power at the Time of the Seven Years' War, Oxford, Voltaire Foundation, coll. “Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century” (no 365), 1998. MAËS Gaëtane, The Watteaus of Lille: Louis Watteau (1731-1798), François Watteau (1758-1823), Paris, Arthéna, 1998.

To cite this article

Pascal DUPUY, "The Marquis de Montcalm, hero of the Seven Years' War"

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