[CORBUTT, C. (pseudonym R. PURCELL)] after THOMLINSON
Charles Lee, Esqr. Major General of the Continental-Army in America
London: Published by C. Shepherd, Oct. 31, 1775. Mezzotint. Image size: 12 7/8 x 9 7/8 inches.
A fine impression of this early print of Charles Lee, the famous general of the American Revolution.
Public demand for portraits of Revolutionary heroes was not limited to America but spread to English and European print shops, where an inquisitive audience clamored for a glimpse of the key figures of the war. Public interest reached such a frenzy that European printmakers published fictitious portraits before they had accurate likenesses of the sitters and thus, many of the first English and European prints of Revolutionary colonials were completely invented. London publishers, using the names C. Shepherd, Thomas Hart, and John Morris, issued a series of mezzotints of the officers of the American Revolution, none of which were taken from accurate portraits but rather, were constructed on a visual formula and bore no resemblance to the individuals they claimed to be representing.
Tomlinson's portrait of General Charles Lee is just such a portrait: the image bears little resemblance to contemporary accounts of his appearance, and there is no record of him sitting for the artist. This portrait was executed and printed early in the war with the expectation that Lee would play a major role in the conflict, an assumption based on his past military record in the French and Indian War. Although born in England, Lee committed himself to the Patriot cause and soon became a leader in the Colonial army. He took part in the defense of Charleston and was a commander at the Battle of Monmouth.
This is a fascinating early print of this Revolutionary general, which not only records the practice of invented portraits but became a compositional model for other portraits of Revolutionary War heroes.
Chaloner Smith British Mezzotinto Portraits (Engraver not ascertained, Class III) 9; Cresswell The American Revolution in Drawings and Prints 147; George Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires..in the British Museum V, 5296; Russell English Mezzotint Portraits, and their States II, p.450.9.