Major John André (1750-1780) was a British spy hanged during the American Revolution for assisting Benedict Arnold’s failed plot to surrender the fort at West Point, New York, to the British Army. This painting depicts the moment on September 23, 1780, when André was detained by armed militiamen near Tarrytown, New York, who discovered incriminating papers in his boot, revealing Arnold’s scheme to hand the fort over to the British in exchange for £20,300 and a brigadier’s commission. Sentenced to death, the dignity with which André accepted his fate endeared him to enemies. George Washington called André, “An accomplished man and gallant officer,” while Alexander Hamilton wrote, “Never perhaps did any man suffer death with more justice, or deserve it less.”
The story of Major André became a popular subject for artists. Jacob Eichholtz and Thomas Sully both painted scenes of his arrest, but the best-known depiction of his capture is this work by Asher B. Durand. In 1845, the American Art-Union commissioned this painting from Durand, asking him to improve upon an earlier version he painted in 1834. This painting was included in the Art-Union’s annual members’ lottery in December of 1845, where it was won by Cornelius Van Horn of New York. For years, the whereabouts of this painting was unknown to scholars, only recently surfacing in a private collection. Acquired by the Birmingham Museum of Art, this is the first time this painting has been on public view since 1845.