Born on October 10, 1738 in Pennsylvania, Benjamin West was a painter of historical, religious, and mythological subjects who had a strong influence on the development of historical painting in Britain. He was historical painter for King George III and a founder of the Royal Academy (1768).
As a young man, West showed artistic talent and was sent to Philadelphia in 1756 to study painting. At age 20, he was a successful portraitist in New York City. 1760, he sailed to Italy, where Neoclassicism was rapidly gaining ground. He then went to London and set up as a portrait painter. Later, he received financial support from the king and he no longer needed to continue as a portrait painter.
His painting “The Death of General Wolfe” (c.1771) was one of his best-known works. The people in the painting are wearing modern dress rather than antique clothing to present a contemporary historical event within a classical composition. It was considered by many academicians to be an insult to the art of history painting, but ultimately it was a popular success and won Reynold’s approval.
Though loyal to America, West retained the king’s friendship and patronage until 1801. West never returned to the United States, but through such pupils as Washington Allston, Gilbert Stuart, Charles Wilson Peale, and John Singleton Copley, he exerted considerable influence on the development of art in that country during the first decades of the 19th century.
Source: Benjamin West #2
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