Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait miniature of Major-General William Phillips (c.1731-81) wearing the uniform of The Royal Artillery 

Richard Crosse (1742-1810)

Portrait miniature of Major-General William Phillips (c.1731-81) wearing the uniform of The Royal Artillery, Richard Crosse
Watercolour on ivory
18th Century
Oval, 3 1/8 in (80 mm) high
Private Collection
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Major-General William Phillips was a celebrated artilleryman in the British army who rose to prominence during the American War of Independence.

Phillips joined the Royal Military Academy in August 1746 and by 1st April 1750 was part of the artillery division as quartermaster of the Royal Regiment of Artillery, and later led a battalion during the Seven Years War under Prince Frederick of Brunswick (1771-1815). During the war Phillips demonstrated his ability as a decisive leader and following a number of significant offensive manoeuvres, Phillips was promoted to lieutenant-colonel.

In 1769 Phillips became lieutenant-governor of Windsor Castle and three years later was promoted to colonel in the army. In his later life Phillips became involved in politics and represented Boroughbridge 1775-80, although his participation in the Commons was limited due to his military responsibilities.

From 1776 Phillips was stationed in Canada where he assisted lieutenant-general John Burgoyne (1722-92) in his defence against American invaders and soon became second in command, later receiving two further promotions in 1777 to major of artillery and then major-general of the army.

Following the surrender of Burgoyne on 13th October 1777 Phillips was captured and remained in the hands of his enemies for more two years until 13th October 1780 when he was exchanged. In March 1781 Phillips was given the command of a force of two-thousand men and instructed by the commander-in-chief Sir Henry Clinton (1730-95) to secure the James and Elizabeth rivers and disrupt the supply lines of the enemy. Whilst en route to Petersburg however, Phillips fell ill and died on 13 May 1781, shortly after his arrival.

This portrait by Richard Crosse dates from his early career as a miniaturist. It displays the artist’s extraordinary ability to convey fabric texture, as well as minute facial details, in watercolour.

Crosse lost his hearing at a young age and initially took up miniature painting as an interested amateur. His talent soon became apparent and he won a premium at the Society of Arts in 1758, going on to study at Shipley’s Drawing School. His clientele included the royal family, as well as aristocratic sitters. He also painted many portraits of his own family, including his brother who was also his assistant.
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