Seventeen years after Benjamin West settled in England, a London newspaper's review of the 1780 Royal Academy exhibition stated that The Battle of La Hogue "exceeds all that ever came from Mr. West's pencil." In 1692, Louis XIV of France had mounted an ill-fated attempt to return James II, a fellow Catholic, to the throne of England. In response, Britain and her Protestant allies, the Dutch, massed their fleets and engaged the enemy for five days off the northern French coast near La Hogue. Benjamin West condensed the events of the long battle into one dramatic composition that, by employing much artistic or poetic license, is largely propaganda.
Standing in a boat at the left, for instance, Vice Admiral George Rooke embodies heroic command with his upright posture and raised sword. Yet, in order to survey the maneuvers, he undoubtedly gave orders from a distance. Beached in the center distance is the French flagship, the Royal Sun. Actually burned and sunk a few days before this encounter, the Royal Sun is here deliberately refloated -- only to be run against the cliffs so that West might symbolize the French defeat. This complex, multi-figured panorama is an excellent example of West's influential early style, and of the balanced designs and carefully blended brushwork of eighteenth-century neoclassicism.
More information on this painting can be found in the Gallery publication American Paintings of the Eighteenth Century, pages 329-334, which is available as a free PDF at https://www.nga.gov/content/dam/ngaweb/research/publications/pdfs/american-paintings-18th-century.pdf