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Benjamin West collection, 1771-circa 1879

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: 19 items

Summary: This collection 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.

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.

Provenance

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

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

A Finding Aid to the Benjamin West Collection,
1771-circa 1879
, in the Archives of American Art
AAA.westbenj
Finding aid prepared by Stephanie Ashley
Scope and Content Note
This collection 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 Note
Expatriate painter Benjamin West (1738-1829) was born in Springfield, Pennsylvania and worked in Pennsylvania and New York before settling in London as a portrait painter and historical painter to King George III. West initially studied with local artist William Williams in Pennsylvania and began painting portraits in Pennsylvania and New York in the 1750s. Around 1760 he traveled to Italy to study art and then settled in London as a portrait painter and remained in Europe for the rest of his life. He received many commissions under the patronage of George III and in 1772 was appointed historical painter to the King.
A leader in neoclassicism and a mentor to many young English and American artists including John Constable, Charles Willson Peale, Gilbert Stuart, and John Singleton Copley, West became the first American artist to receive international recognition. Among his best-known works are
Death of General Wolfe
(1770) and
Penn's Treaty with the Indians
(1772). In these, and other historical paintings, he maintained the compositional elements of neoclassicism but departed from tradition by painting historical figures in the clothing of their period, rather than in classical attire.
West was a co-founder of the Royal Academy of Arts with Sir Joshua Reynolds, and served as the Academy's president from 1792-1815.
Benjamin West died in London in 1820.
Arrangement
The collection is arranged as one series:
Series 1: Benjamin West Collection, 1771-circa 1879 (Box 1; 5 folders)
Provenance
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.
Processing Information
The collection was acquired through a series of gifts and purchases from various sources between 1955 and 1981 and microfilmed after receipt on reels D10 and 3480 in the order in which it was received. All accessions were merged and fully processed by Stephanie Ashley in 2008 and digitized in 2009 with funding provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Additional Forms Available

The collection has been scanned and is available online via AAA's website.

Restrictions on Access

Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center. Contact Reference Services for more information.

How to Cite This Collection

Benjamin West collection, 1771-circa 1879. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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