American Painter Benjamin West

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American Painter Benjamin West

Birthplace: Springfield, Delaware, Pennsylvania, United States
Death: March 11, 1820 (81)
London, England (United Kingdom)
Place of Burial: London, Greater London, United Kingdom
Immediate Family:

Son of John West the Tavern Owner and Sarah West
Husband of Elizabeth West
Father of Raphael Lamar West and Benjamin Franklin West
Brother of John West; Elizabeth Hough; Sarah Howell; Hugh West; Joseph Pearson West and 12 others
Half brother of Thomas West; Joseph Pearson West and Ann Fennemore

Occupation: Celebrated painter: "The death of wolfe", "Battle of La Hogue", "Christ Healing the sick", "Death of the pale horse", "Alexander the Great and his Physicians", "Penn's Treaty with the Indians". Original home is a historical landmark at Swarthmore College
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About American Painter Benjamin West


Benjamin West PRA (October 10, 1738 – March 11, 1820) was a British North American artist, who painted famous historical scenes such as The Death of Nelson, The Death of General Wolfe, and Benjamin Franklin Drawing Electricity from the Sky.

Entirely self-taught, West soon gained valuable patronage, and he toured Europe, eventually settling in London. He impressed King George III and was largely responsible for the launch of the Royal Academy, of which he became the second president (after Sir Joshua Reynolds). He was appointed historical painter to the court and Surveyor of the King's Pictures.

West also painted religious subjects, as in his huge work The Preservation of St Paul after a Shipwreck at Malta, at the Chapel of St Peter and St Paul in Greenwich, and Christ Healing the Sick, presented to the National Gallery.

Early life
West was born in Springfield, Pennsylvania, in a house that is now in the borough of Swarthmore on the campus of Swarthmore College,[2] as the tenth child of an innkeeper and his wife. The family later moved to Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, where his father was the proprietor of the Square Tavern, still standing in that town. West told the novelist John Galt, with whom, late in his life, he collaborated on a memoir, The Life and Studies of Benjamin West (1816, 1820) that, when he was a child, Native Americans showed him how to make paint by mixing some clay from the river bank with bear grease in a pot. Benjamin West was an autodidact; while excelling at the arts, "he had little [formal] education and, even when president of the Royal Academy, could scarcely spell".[3] One day his mother left him alone with his little sister Sally. Benjamin discovered some bottles of ink and began to paint Sally’s portrait. When his mother came home, she noticed the painting, picked it up and said, “Why, it’s Sally!” and kissed him. Later, he noted, "My mother's kiss made me a painter."[4]

From 1746 to 1759, West worked in Pennsylvania, mostly painting portraits. While West was in Lancaster in 1756, his patron, a gunsmith named William Henry, encouraged him to paint a Death of Socrates based on an engraving in Charles Rollin's Ancient History. His resulting composition, which significantly differs from the source, has been called "the most ambitious and interesting painting produced in colonial America".[5] Dr William Smith, then the provost of the College of Philadelphia, saw the painting in Henry's house and decided to become West's patron, offering him education and, more importantly, connections with wealthy and politically connected Pennsylvanians. During this time West met John Wollaston, a famous painter who had immigrated from London. West learned Wollaston's techniques for painting the shimmer of silk and satin, and also adopted some of "his mannerisms, the most prominent of which was to give all his subjects large almond-shaped eyes, which clients thought very chic".[6]

West was a close friend of Benjamin Franklin, whose portrait he painted. Franklin was the godfather of West's second son, Benjamin.

Italian Grand Tour

Sponsored by Smith and William Allen, then reputed to be the wealthiest man in Philadelphia, West traveled to Italy in 1760 in the company of the Scot William Patoun, a painter who later became an art collector. In common with many artists, architects, and lovers of the fine arts at that time he conducted a Grand Tour. West expanded his repertoire by copying works of Italian painters such as Titian and Raphael direct from the originals. In Rome he met a number of international neo-classical artists including German-born Anton Rafael Mengs, Scottish Gavin Hamilton, and Austrian Angelica Kauffman.[7]

n August 1763, West arrived in England,[8] on what he initially intended as a visit on his way back to America.[8] In fact, he never returned to America. He stayed for a month at Bath with William Allen, who was also in the country, and visited his half-brother Thomas West at Reading at the urging of his father. In London he was introduced to Richard Wilson and his student Joshua Reynolds.[9] He moved into a house in Bedford Street, Covent Garden. The first picture he painted in England Angelica and Medora, along with a portrait of General Monckton,[10] and his Cymon and Iphigenia, painted in Rome, were shown at the exhibition in Spring Gardens in 1764.

In 1765 he married Elizabeth Shewell, an American to whom he became engaged in Philadelphia, at St Martin-in-the-Fields.[11]

Dr Markham, then Headmaster of Westminster School, introduced West to Samuel Johnson, Edmund Burke,[12] Thomas Newton, Bishop of Bristol, James Johnson, Bishop of Worcester, and Robert Hay Drummond, Archbishop of York. All three prelates commissioned work from him.[13] In 1766 West proposed a scheme to decorate St Paul's Cathedral with paintings. It was rejected by the Bishop of London, but his idea of painting an altarpiece for St Stephen Walbrook was accepted.[14] At around this time he also received acclaim for his classical subjects, such as Orestes and Pylades and The Continence of Scipio.[14][15]

Benjamin West was known in England as the "American Raphael". His Raphaelesque painting of Archangel Michael Binding the Devil is in the collection of Trinity College, Cambridge.[16] He said that "Art is the representation of human beauty, ideally perfect in design, graceful and noble in attitude."[17]

Royal patronage

Drummond tried to raise subscriptions to fund an annuity for West, so that he could give up portraiture and devote himself entirely to more ambitious compositions. Having failed in this, he tried—with greater success—to convince King George III to patronise West.[18] West was soon on good terms with the king, and the two men conducted long discussions on the state of art in England, including the idea of the establishment of a Royal Academy.[19] The academy came into being in 1768, with West one of the primary leaders of an opposition group formed out of the existing Society of Artists of Great Britain. Joshua Reynolds was its first president. In a story related by Henry Angelo I (1756–1835) in his book of reminiscences, the actor David Garrick, who was a friend of Angelo's father, the Italian sword master Domenico Angelo, memorably sketched for the teenaged Henry the following exchange: one day the painter Francesco Zuccarelli, on one of his visits to Domenico, got into a dispute with his fellow royal academician Johan Zoffany about the merit of West's 1769 painting The Departure of Regulus, his first commission for the king. Zuccarelli exclaimed, "Here is a painter who promises to rival Nicolas Poussin", while Zoffany tauntingly replied, "A figo for Poussin, West has already beaten him out of the field."[20]

In 1772, King George appointed him historical painter to the court[21] at an annual fee of £1,000.[11] He painted a series of eight large canvases showing exfrom the life of Edward III for St George's Hall at Windsor Castle,[22] and proposed a cycle of 36 works on the theme of "the progress of revealed religion" for a chapel at the castle, of which 28 were eventually executed.[11] He also painted nine portraits of members of the royal family,[11] including two of the king himself. He was Surveyor of the King's Pictures from 1791 until his death.


American Painter: Benjamin West is known for his paintings of historical scenes set in and around the time of the American Revolution. His most famous painting "The Death of General Wolfe" is more than 5 feet tall and more than 7 feet long! West was also commissioned by King George III to paint royal portraits.

Famous Colonial American Painter. 13 works in National Art Gallery, Washington, DC.

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American Painter Benjamin West's Timeline

October 10, 1738
Springfield, Delaware, Pennsylvania, United States
London, England
March 11, 1820
Age 81
London, England
June 23, 1885
Age 81
January 18, 1901
Age 81
May 15, 1906
Age 81
November 4, 1920
Age 81