Skip to main content

Benjamin West collection, 1771-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.