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Iconic 'The Death of General Wolfe' painting back on display at U-M Clements Library

240-year-old artwork returns to main room following building renovations

"The Death of General Wolfe," over 240 years old and 8.5 feet in width, has been installed with new custom lighting on the oak-paneled walls of the Avenir Foundation Room at the University of Michigan William L. Clements Library. (Photo: Austin Thomason | Michigan Photography)

ANN ARBOR – Referred to as the most famous item in the University of Michigan William L. Clements Library collection, Benjamin West's painting "The Death of General Wolfe" has returned to the walls of the Clements' Avenir Foundation Room.

A new exhibition at the Clements is highlighting its collection of sources related to the 1759 siege of Québec -- the battle depicted in West's painting.

Roughly 18 years following the conflict in Canada between Britain and France, West created his epic oil painting depicting the storied death of British General James Wolfe on the battlefield. Historians and art experts consider the work an iconic masterpiece, which presents themes of martyrdom, imperial power and national unity.

Four other full-sized versions of the painting exist and are currently held by Canadian and British institutions.

The Clements Library has had the painting in its collection for 91 years. The 240-year-old, 8 1/2-foot artwork has been off display since 2012 and has recently been installed on the oak-paneled walls of the grand exhibition room with new custom lighting.

(Photo: Austin Thomason | Michigan Photography)

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"This painting's value goes beyond illustration of a historic event," curator of graphics Clayton Lewis said in a statement. "It symbolizes the peak of British imperial power in North America."

The painting called Arolsen Castle in Hesse, Germany home for 150 years. The castle's owner, Friedrich, Prince of Waldeck, commissioned West to create the artwork in 1776.

The painting came to Ann Arbor in 1928 as a gift from the library's founder William L. Clements. The painting has only left the library three times since its arrival, most recently as the feature in an exhibition in the U-M Museum of Art titled "Benjamin West: General Wolfe and the Art of Empire," and for storage while the library underwent an expansion and extensive renovations.

According to the Clements Library:

"To mark the reinstallation of 'The Death of General Wolfe,' the display will consist entirely of acquisitions made over decades that are directly relevant to the Battle of Québec and the life of Wolfe. Selections include original manuscript and printed accounts of the battle, a hand-colored map engraving of the battle positions and letters written by Wolfe himself in 1758."

While the painting will remain on permanent display, the exhibition will run through Feb. 7, 2020.

Visitors can view the exhibition on Fridays during public hours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Admission is free and open to the public.

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