About this artwork

A battle rages in the background while a group of officers anxiously gather around their seated commander, whose slumped appearance suggests that all is not well. The man is Sir Ralph Abercromby, and the painting shows the Battle of Alexandria, 21 March 1801, which put an end to Napoleon's Egyptian empire and with it the French threat to British India and other territories east of Suez. De Loutherbourg has chosen the moment of battle when Abercromby was fatally wounded, introducing an element of personal tragedy into the national victory.

Philip James de Loutherbourg

Philip James de Loutherbourg

De Loutherbourg was born in Strasbourg, the son of a miniature painter and engraver. He trained in France, specialising in landscape painting, and he was subsequently made painter to Louis XIV. In 1771 he came to England at the invitation of the actor-manager, David Garrick and painted spectacular sets for the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. His interest in technical innovation led to the 'Eidophusikon', a precursor of the cinema using transparent images and light effects. He was a regular exhibitor at the Royal Academy, to which he was elected in 1781. As well as dramatic landscapes, he produced history paintings and published prints recording his tours of picturesque scenery in England and Wales.