John Trumbull, born in Connecticut and educated at Harvard, recorded on canvas the major events of the nation’s founding. He served for a time as General George Washington’s aide-de-camp, and his experience contributed to the vividness of paintings such as this one and his now-famous series depicting key events of the American Revolution.
In 1784 Trumbull traveled to England. Seeking a theme to boost his reputation there, he portrayed the sortie at Gibraltar on November 26, 1781, in which British forces overthrew a Spanish siege, set the Spanish military works ablaze, and mortally wounded the Spanish commander, Don José de Barboza. The British general George Augustus Elliott offered Barboza sanctuary, but the Spaniard valiantly chose to die with his men.
The picture gains veracity from the portraits of the British officers, which Trumbull made from life.
Trumbull was so linked with his paintings of the American Revolution that he had difficulty establishing a positive reputation in England. He selected this subject, "The Sortie from Gibraltar," which extolled the honor of the British army, to gain the affection of the English people.