The Triumphal Victory of the Bonhomme Richard (John Paul Jones)


Photo by Jiaxin Yang showing portion of “The Triumphal Victory of the Bonhomme Richard (John Paul Jones),” Henry Mosler, c. 1912-13.

“I have not yet begun to fight!” ~John Paul Jones

About John Paul Jones
Originally from Scotland, Jones was sympathetic to the Americans’ struggle for freedom from British colonial rule. After war broke out in 1775, Jones volunteered for service in the Continental Navy. His greatest victory came in September 1779. Jones knew the rich British fleets from the West Indies and the Baltic were returning to England, and he planned to take one or both. On September 23rd, ships of the Baltic convoy came into view off the east coast of England. As the merchant ships attempted escape, the two escorting British warships, Serapis and Countess of Scarborough, squared off against Jones’s ship, the Bonhomme Richard.

After three hours of maneuvering, the Bonhomme Richard collided with the Serapis, and Jones tied the two ships together. They engaged in deadly cannon fire for two hours. When the British captain, Richard Pearson, asked if the Americans were ready to surrender, Jones roared back, “I have not yet begun to fight!” An American grenade then exploded below decks on the Serapis and it was the British who surrendered. The Bonhomme Richard was irreparably damaged, so Jones transferred his flag to the Serapis, symbolizing American victory. Jones’s courage and resourcefulness in this fight brought him international recognition and he became one of America’s greatest Revolutionary naval commanders and a founder of U.S.’s modern naval tradition.

About The Triumphal Victory of the Bonhomme Richard
Mosler’s painting depicts the dramatic moment when Jones leads his men aboard the Serapis to engage the British in battle. The painting evokes a palpable drama with stark lighting, bold, saturated colors and a strong interplay of diagonals, possibly referencing earlier seventeenth-century and Baroque styles that Mosler studied in Europe, specifically Munich. Jones is depicted with an expression of complete, focused determination as he prepares to lead his men to victory. We can perhaps surmise that this is the moment before he shouts his famous phrase “I have not yet begun to fight!” The work is meant to illustrate the triumph in a fiercely patriotic way, emphasizing the fearlessness of the commander in the face of almost certain defeat.

John Paul Jones: The Sculpture
Mosler’s painting of John Paul Jones is not the only representation of the naval hero here in Washington D.C. About two and a half miles away, in West Potomac Park, there is a striking, monumental sculpture of Jones created by an artist named Charles Henry Niehaus a contemporary of Mosler’s with whom Mosler corresponded. Find the sculpture here.

View a video produced by students in CCT’s Media Production course.

Patriotism – Heroic – Prestige – Henry Mosler’s Painting of John Paul Jones from j.r. osborn on Vimeo.