The Capture of Louisbourg, c 1745
Oil on canvas
54.0 x 98.3 cm
Purchased with the assistance of a Movable Cultural Property grant accorded by the Department of Canadian Heritage under the terms of the Cultural Property Export and Import Act and with funds donated by Farhad Vladi, Gunter Thiels, Jörg Pilawa, Joe Ramia and other friends of the AGNS and Fred and Elizabeth Fountain
Peter Monamy’s painting of The Capture of Louisbourg represents the attack on the fortress in 1745. The first capture of Louisbourg by New England forces in 1745 and its return to French control by the Treaty of Aix-la Chapelle in 1748 prompted the settlement of Halifax in 1749; the successful second Siege of Louisbourg in 1758 by Wolfe, Amherst, and Boscawen changed the course of Canadian history.
Peter Monamy was born in London in 1681. He served a seven-year apprenticeship under William Clark, the former Master of the Company of Painter Stainers, between 1696 and 1703. Until Charles Brooking and Samuel Scott began to make names for themselves, Monamy had a virtual monopoly in marine painting and did much to lay the foundations of the English marine school. Monamy produced many serene seascapes during the peaceful years of the early 18th century, and he later received commissions to illustrate nearly all the naval battles of The War of Jenkins' Ear (1739-42) and The War of the Austrian Succession (1740-48).
Monamy’s patronage by the Durell family of Jersey may have led to the commission for the Louisbourg painting since Philip Durell (1707-1766) was at Louisbourg for both sieges, under Admirals Peter Warren in 1745 and Edward Boscawen in 1758. Appointed vice-admiral of the blue following the 1758 siege, Durell established the Halifax dockyard in 1759. (Durell died in Halifax and is buried under St Paul’s; his funeral hatchment still hangs from the gallery.) Durell and the engineer John Henry Bastide produced maps of Louisbourg and he may have provided Monamy’s studio with one of these and perhaps a prospect of the town and fortress drawn by Bastide as the basis for the painting.
Another version of this painting is in the collection of the British National Maritime Museum. The two views differ very little. The draughtsmanship is somewhat more assured in our view – the lighthouse does not lean to the right as is does in the NMM version – but the primary difference lies in the configuration of the bank of clouds rising up over the Royal Battery and the line of British ships heading in full sail around the Island Battery toward the fortress itself. Monamy’s grandly rendered Turneresque skies suggest the direction English art would take in the next century.
Early views of French sites in Atlantic Canada are very rare, and with the exception of a few maps and town plans the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia did not possess any until now. An oil painting of this quality, depicting such a key moment in Canadian history, as well as providing a view of the town that surrounded Louisbourg, is an extremely singular object, one of the utmost pertinence and importance to the AGNS.