The Battle of Bunker Hill
Winthrop Chandler, American, 1747–1790 American
88.58 x 136.21 cm (34 7/8 x 53 5/8 in.)
Medium or Technique
Oil on panel
Lurie-Marks Gallery (Gallery 138)
The battle of Bunker Hill was a recent event when Winthrop Chandler painted this panoramic view of the 1775 skirmish to decorate a cousin’s house in Pomfret, Connecticut. Although Chandler was primarily a portrait painter, he is also credited with about nine landscapes, among the earliest pastoral subjects in the folk idiom known in America. This scene was painted on a fireboard, a screen used to cover a fireplace opening during the summer months; it was later installed above the fireplace as an overmantel. Although Chandler may have spent time in Boston during the 1760s, the Connecticut-based artist was not present at the battle of Bunker Hill. Nor, apparently, was his composition inspired by a print. This depiction is instead Chandler’s own notion of the military engagement, one of the most costly British victories of the war.
While Chandler’s view is not accurate from either a military or a topographical standpoint (the spectator seems to be looking down over Charlestown from Breed’s Hill, where the battle actually took place), it conveys the drama of the event through telling detail. Wounded soldiers and riderless horses are scattered across the foreground. British ships blast the shoreline with cannonfire, while tiny figures cling to the rigging or flail in the water. At right, a house bursts into flame, a prelude to the bombardment of Charlestown. And, spaced neatly throughout the picture are the three forts that guarded the harbor, each proudly flying the Grand Union flag. The flag, with thirteen stripes signifying the original colonies and the crosses of Saint George and Saint Andrew representing the Crown, suggests a date for the picture: it was the colonial standard until June 14, 1777, when the Continental Congress adopted the Stars and Stripes.
This text was adapted from Gerald W. R. Ward et al., American Folk (Boston: MFA Publications, 2001).