Perry's Victory on Lake Erie
Dramatically depicting a key battle during the War of 1812, Thomas Birch painted the British and American naval fleets in full, easily tracked by their individual flags. Birch emphasizes the drama of the battle between Great Britain, his native home, and his adopted country, the United States, by showing the vast array of ships blanketed in a haze of cannon fire and the embattled ship Lawrence adrift with bullet-riddled sails. The ship credited with winning the long battle against the British navy, the Niagara, appears with its three large sails in the distant center of Birch’s scene, keeping the viewer at a safe distance from the actual fighting and presenting a patriotic vision of American victory that gives credit to the entire fleet rather than one officer or ship. The victory at Lake Erie depicted here symbolically ended the British domination of the Atlantic Ocean that had crippled the American economy since the Revolution and remains the most monumental canvas that Birch would create.