Browse Similar Masterworks

Washington at The Battle of Monmouth,
Alfred Wordsworth Thompson (1840-1896)

View Artist Bio
Oil on canvas
25 1/4 x 40 1/4 inches
Signature Details: Wordsworth Thompson
Status: Private Collection, Florida

Alfred Wordsworth Thompson was born May 27, 1840, in Baltimore, Maryland, and studied at Newton University, a short-lived college located in Baltimore.  In 1861 he started work as an illustrator for Harper’s Weekly and the Illustrated London News.  The Virginia Historical Society owns nineteen drawings prepared by Thompson for publication in these periodicals.  Many of them contains captions and Thompson’s signature.  One of these images, “Death of Johnson—Fryday Dec. 13th 1861,” depicts a military execution.  Thompson’s drawings have been digitized and are available for viewing at the Virginia historical society website (www.vhs4.vahistorical.org/sarweb/vhs).  A review of the VHS digitized pen—and-ink drawings reveals that Harper’s Weekly published several of Thompson’s drawings created during 1861.  Among them are “Second Mississippi Regiment (Wildcats) Passing along Market Street, Winchester” (August 3, 1861, p. 493); “Market-Place at Winchester” (September 9, 1861, p. 569) and “Rebel Intrenchments on the Martinsburg Turnpike, near Winchester” (September 28, 1861, p. 614).  Further review of the Society’s drawings and of unsigned illustrations in Harper’s Weekly and the Illustrated London News will likely identify more of his images and reveal that Thompson’s career as an illustrator was brief but successful.  At the end of 1861 Thompson traveled to Europe to study art.   In Paris he studied with Charles Gleye, Albert Pasini, and then at the Ecole des Beaux Arts.  At the Ecole he studied horse anatomy with the sculptor and animalier Antoine-Louis Barye (1796-1875).  Thompson’s utilized his equine anatomy skills to great effect; for, most of his history and genre paintings feature horses, singly or in numbers, as in Washington at the Battle of Monmouth.  He exhibited paintings at the Paris Salon in 1865 and 1868. 

Returning to the United States, he joined the National Academy of Design in New York City.  With his strong academic tradition, he specialized in history paintings of the American Revolution and the American Civil War.  In the 1880s Thompson traveled to Europe and North Africa.  From that experience he painted portraits and genre scenes in the western Orientalist tradition.  (For a brief essay on Thompson’s trip to the Mediterranean and North Africa and his Orientalist paintings, see Gerald M. Ackerman, American Orientalism (Paris: ACR Publisher, 1994), pp. 206-7.)

While Thompson is justly famous for his Civil War landscape, Cannonading on the Potomac, October 1861, which is among the collections of The White House, Washington, DC, he seems to have devoted more of his energies to creating scenes of the American Revolution.  Washington at the Battle of Monmouth contains elements that Thompson traditionally utilized in his works:  multiple individuals, numerous horses, and the accurate depiction of a building historically associated with the subject of the painting.   Added to these traditional elements the painting is a representation of a decisive battle in the American Revolution.  The Battle of Monmouth occurred on June 28, 1778, and pitted Continental troops commanded by General George Washington and Charles Lee against British and Hessian troops led by Lieutenant General Henry Clinton and Lord Charles Cornwallis.  The battle was historic for several reasons.  It demonstrated that Continental troops, trained and drilled at Valley Forge by Baron Friedrich Wilhelm Von Steuben, could defeat trained British opponents.  The battle also ended the military career of General Charles Lee, whose actions led to a court martial, while Greene’s initiative greatly enhanced his reputation as a skilled commander.    

Thompson’s painting depicts Washington mounted on a horse in the foreground.  Five of his subordinate officers are depicted on horseback slightly behind him.  While the individuals cannot be identified individually, the historical record of the episode suggests that they include the Marquis de Lafayette, Charles Lee, Nathanael Greene, Anthony Wayne, and Baron Von Steuben.  Lee had precipitated the battle by an ill-managed attack upon the rearguard of Clinton’s troops.  The British counterattacked the Continentals, driving them back to Perrine Ridge, a slight rise where Washington regrouped his troops and repulsed the British counterattack.  The church in the background was the Tennent Meetinghouse, where Nathanael Greene set up artillery in the adjacent cemetery.  In 1854 Emanuel Leutze (1816-68) painted a version of the episode titled Washington Rallying the Troops at Monmouth

The author of Thompson’s biographical sketch in the National Cyclopedia of American Biography, published in 1898) recorded that of 125 paintings by Thompson sold through the National Academy of Design, forty were of colonial and Revolutionary War subjects.  Among Thompson’s other Revolutionary War paintings are Old Bruton Church, Williamsburgh, Virginia, in the Time of Lord Dunmore (ca. 1896), in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Parting Guests, 1775 (1889), owned by the New-York Historical Society; and Halt at the Outpost (1881), in the collections of the Union League Club, New York City.  Albert Wordsworth Thompson died in Summit, New Jersey, on August 28, 1896. 

Thompson’s Washington at the Battle of Monmouth must have remained in private hands for most of its existence.  For, it is unrecorded in major art registries at the Smithsonian Institution (SIRIS) and Frick Art Reference Library (FRESCO) or in compendiums of auction sales.

This essay is copyrighted by Robert M. Hicklin Jr., Inc. and may not be reproduced or transmitted without written permission.​​​​​​​

1451 River Road · Yemassee, SC 29945 · 843.412.8738
Get Our Email Newsletter
Created by . Easy site updating through Backstage CMS.