The Capture of Major André
Ashley Smith, Pooja Kumar, Amy Wang, Hannah Grinnell
By: Ashley Smith
The most unfortunate turning point of my life occurred on one dreary night, September 23, 1780. On this night a series of improbable coincidences led to an inequitable search of my belongings and arrest. Driven to this land by a broken heart by my love, Honora Sneyd, this miserable event worsened my already intolerable despair. Like every man I know would, I accepted the mass sum of money that was offered to me. I had hopes for a bright future and relief from the wretched state in which I was suffering. The armed militia scoundrels searched my boots without my permission, and arrested me immediately. However, I accept my fate with full dignity. I send my love to my beautiful mother and most importantly to my perpetual love, Honora. I long for the day that I shall see you again.
-Major John André
John André had been plotting with Benedict Arnold, the famous Revolutionary war traitor, for some time about the transfer of the American fort West Point to the British. Arnold provided André with fake papers to safely pass through American lines and instructions for the British on how to capture the fort at West Point. While riding he encountered American militiamen who stopped him and asked who he was. André assumed that they were also British soldiers because one man was wearing a Hessian coat, and told them that he was a British officer who needed to be let through quickly. The militia men answered by saying that they were in fact American soldiers and André quickly tried to remedy the situation by saying he was an American officer, but the damage was already done. Suspicious of this man who said he was two different things, the militia men searched André and found his fake papers and Benedict’s instructions in his boot. From there André was tried and found guilty and hung. André faced death with dignity and was remembered with respect for that.
Critique of the Painting
The Capture of Major André, an 1845 oil painting by Asher Durand depicts Major André being questioned by three American militiamen. In the foreground, Major André is standing between them without his shoes and in civilian clothing. Two of the militiamen are armed with rifles. The piece is painted in the style of Realism; the men are wearing normal clothing, and there is great attention to detail in the foliage of the tree behind the four figures. The small and detailed leaves, most likely created by thick and fast strokes, permeate the composition, which creates a sense of unity; the repeated ochres and brownish greens pull the painting together. The colors are bright and saturated, fading into pastels as the scene moves into the background. The painting additionally seems to be influenced by the Romantic art movement. The men are set in nature, surrounded by trees and pasture, as well as pink mountains in the background.
The Capture of Major André also shows the major in a heroic light. Despite him being a British spy, Durand paints Major André as the one the audience sympathizes with. He appears to be trying to reasonable and trying to explain himself, although he is willingly admitting to being a spy. The militia men, however are appearing to be arrogant and disregarding his appeals. In this case, they are the antagonists, while André is the protagonist. The painting was commissioned during the year of the founding of the US Naval Academy, and was meant to instill the value of honor in the soldiers; even with this unfavorable predicament, the major still retains his dignity.
Identification of Author
Asher Durand was acknowledged as an important American landscape painter in the early to late 1800s. Born in Jefferson Village, New Jersey, Durand worked with his father who was a watchmaker and silversmith before he began art. He began an apprenticeship with the engraver Peter Maverick in Newark in the early 1800s. He later became an associate for Maverick and established and led the firm in the New York City branch. But he left when a dispute happened over Durand freelancing for John Trumbull -when he engraved The Declaration Of Independence- and he left the company. The engraving boosted Durand’s standing in the ‘New York art world’. In 1825 he joined with Samuel F. B. Morse, Thomas Cole, William Sydney Mount, and others to found the New-York Drawing Association, which was later called National Academy Of Design. Durand was influenced by the other artist around him and created more art. His new commitment to art was reflected in his trip abroad to visit many countries in Europe. An encounter to an Constable painting influenced his art. He began creating more natural landscapes and started sketching in pencil and oil. Durand also became the president of the National Academy Of Design in 1855 until the beginning of the civil war. Although he was avidly into naturalist painting he did not consistently do them and he was later forgotten. Durand painted his last painting 7 years before his death.
Major André worked together with Benedict Arnold who wanted to betray his country for money. He took Arnold’s instructions and fake papers and started to travel across American lines. When he was found by militia men he told them he was a British officer and should be let through because he assumed they too were British soldiers. But they told him they were not and he quickly tried to backtrack but it was too late. During the trial he blamed the militia men for trying to rob him but he was still found guilty and hung.