Monday, June 29, 2015

Benjamin West

The Death of General Wolfe
oil on canvas
152.6 x 214.5 cm
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Canada

Benjamin West (1738-1820) was an American-born painter of historical, religious, and mythological subjects. He had a profound influence on the development of historical painting in Britain. He was historical painter to George III and a founder and president of the Royal Academy. He was one of the first American artists to win a wide reputation in Europe. He exerted considerable influence on the development of art in the United States.

He was born in Springfield (now Swarthmore) in the Pennsylvania colony. As a young man, he showed precocious artistic talent and was sent to Philadelphia in 1756 to study painting. At 20 years of age he was a successful portraitist in New York City and in 1760, he sailed for Italy, where Neoclassicism was rapidly gaining ground.

He visited most of the leading cities of Italy and in 1763 went to London, where he set up as a portrait painter. His subsequent patronage by George III and the assurance of financial support from the crown absolved him of the necessity to continue to earn a living through portraiture. Though loyal to America, he retained the king’s friendship and patronage until 1801. He gained widespread popularity, known in London as the American Raphael. In 1802 he visited Paris and exhibited his final sketch which anticipated developments in French Romantic painting. He never returned to the United States, but he exerted considerable influence on the development of art in USA during the first decades of the 19th century.