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Sir Jeffrey Amherst

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    London (published)

  • Date:

    1760s (published)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Watson, James (engraver)
    Reynolds, Joshua (Sir), born 1723 - died 1792 (artist)
    Ryland and Bryer (publisher)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Mezzotint on laid paper

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level D, case PP, shelf 1, box A

Jeffrey Amherst (1717–1797) was a military officer, particularly noted for his role as commander-in-chief of the British forces in North America during the Seven Years’ War. Amherst had previously served under William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, and Sir John Ligonier, when he was recommended to William Pitt to undertake an expedition against the French fortress of Louisbourg in 1758.

Following the successful capture of the fortress and General James Abercromby’s recall to Britain, Amherst was appointed commander-in-chief. The appointment of Amherst could not have come at a better time, for the British had suffered a series of defeats in North America at the hands of the French and their Indian allies: Amherst’s predecessor, Abercromby, was forced to retreat after an ill conceived assault against the French stronghold of Fort Ticonderoga a few months before; and General Braddock, despatched at the outbreak of the war, had been killed when his army had been ambushed en route to attack Fort Duqesne. In July 1759 Amherst succeeded where his predecessor had failed and captured Fort Ticonderoga. This was followed, under instructions from William Pitt, by an attack on Canada. Amherst’s subordinate, James Wolfe, captured Quebec in September 1759. It was some time before Amherst launched the final attack on Canada, choosing to carefully prepare a three-pronged attack which culminated in the capitulation of Montreal in September 1760. After the defeat of the French in North America Amherst dealt with a number of administrative challenges and the outbreak of Pontiac’s rebellion in 1763 – the year in which he was recalled to England.

In 1774 he was offered the command of the British forces in North America but declined. This came at a time when relations with the North American colonies were deteriorating and would eventually lead to the outbreak of war. He declined the command a second time in 1777. In 1778 he was appointed commander-in-chief of the home forces and charged with defence of Britain against a possible French invasion. He was again appointed commander-in-chief at the outbreak of war with France in 1793, although his abilities were questioned.
He died in 1796 at his home in Kent.

Joshua Reynolds (1723–1792) was the leading portraitist of the late-eighteenth century. In 1768 he became the first president of the Royal Academy and had a profound influence on British art and theory of the period.

In the portrait Reynolds has depicted Amherst wearing armour and leaning on a commander’s baton. Armour was not worn on the battlefield at this time. It is instead used as an overt reference to Amherst’s position as a military leader. In the left background is a view of the St. Lawrence River and British troops disembarking for the assault on Montreal. The plans for this attack are placed on the table on the left. The stormy sky, often employed in portraits of military leaders, adds to the martial atmosphere.


Mezzotint is an intaglio printmaking process. This technique allows for a greater effect in the gradation of tone. The engraver employs the use of a rocker – a tool used to roughen the surface of the metal plate from which the print is made; the printing surface is then smoothed with a burnisher so that certain areas of the plate retain more or less ink than others: the more an area is burnished the less ink it will hold, and so the lighter it will appear when printed.

James Watson (1739/40?–1790) was an Irish engraver active in London in the late-eighteenth century. He was born in Dublin and probably arrived in London around 1760. In 1765 he became the principal engraver to Joshua Reynolds. Watson specialised in making mezzotints after portraits.

Physical description

Three-quarter-length portrait, turned and facing to left, resting head on right hand and the left on a commander's baton. The sitter is wearing armour and the star and sash of the Order of the Garter. To the left is a plan of Montreal and a helmet. The sitter stands against a stormy sky, and in the left background is the St. Lawrence river and boats transporting soldiers.

Place of Origin

London (published)


1760s (published)


Watson, James (engraver)
Reynolds, Joshua (Sir), born 1723 - died 1792 (artist)
Ryland and Bryer (publisher)

Materials and Techniques

Mezzotint on laid paper

Marks and inscriptions

'J. Reynolds pinxt. J. Watson fecit. Sir Jeffrey Amherst Knight of the most honourable Order of the Bath, Governor of Virginia. Colonel of His Majesty's 15th & 60th Regiments of Foot, Lieutenant General & Commander in Chief of His Majesty's Forces in North America From 1758 to 1764. Sold by Ryland and Bryer, at the Kings Arms, in Cornhill.'


Height: 49 cm, Width: 36.3 cm

Descriptive line

Three-quarter-length portrait of Sir Jeffrey Amherst dressed in armour. Mezzotint by James Watson after Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1760s.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Smith, John Chaloner. British Mezzotinto Portraits. London: Henry Sotheran & Co., 1883. Vol. 4, p. 1488.


Laid paper



Subjects depicted

General; Boats; Garter Star; Armour; Garter; Map; Baton; Sash; Helmet; River; Soldier


Portraits; Prints


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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