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Benjamin West collection, 1771-circa 1879

West, Benjamin, 1738-1820

Painter, Portrait painter

The papers of Benjamin West in the Archives of American Art were digitized in 2009.The bulk of the papers have been scanned and total 42 images.

Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Collection Information

Size: 0.3 linear feet

Summary: This collection measures 0.3 linear feet and consists of 19 items dated 1771-circa 1879, relating to expatriate painter Benjamin West. West, who settled in London and was renowned for his portraits and his paintings of historical events, was the first internationally known American painter. The collection provides scattered documentation of West's activities including during the time of his appointment as historical painter to King George III, and contains scattered letters from West, two engravings of the artist, prints, and ephemera.
Twelve letters are written to prominent politicians such as John Adams and Robert R. Livingston, Jr., the U.S. Minsister in Paris, close friend and portraitist John Green, and others. There are two pages of accounts documenting West's association with John Boydell. In 1786, Boydell, an alderman for the City of London and a publisher of books, illustrations and engravings, launched an ambitious project to commission the best artists in England, including West, to provide illustrations for an edition of Shakespeare's plays. Also found is a ticket to a lecture at the Royal Academy of Art.
Artwork includes two engravings of West, a print of his birthplace, a print of a late 18th century portrait of West by Jonathan Spilsbury, and an ink drawing after Benjamin West of John Singleton Copley's son and daughter, circa 1879.

Biographical/Historical Note

Benjamin West (1738-1820) was a portrait and history painter, London, England. Born in Pennsylvania. In 1763, he moved to London and opened his own studio. In 1772 he was appointed the court historical painter to King George III. Served as president of the Royal Academy, 1792-1815.


Material received through gift and purchase from various sources: letters on reel D10 donated by Charles Feinberg, 1955-1958; account book pages, fr. 1683-1685, purchased from Walter R. Benjamin Autographs, ca. 1960; reel 3480: wood engraving, fr. 1255-1258 transferred 1981 from the NMAA/PG Library; letters on fr. 1259-1267 were originally lent for microfilming on reel D316 by Charles Feinberg, 1967, and subsequently purchased by AAA in 1968; letter on fr. 1279-1291 purchased 1963 from Charles Hamilton Autographs, Inc.; and the source of print on fr. 1268-1278 is unspecified.


Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.