"Remember, light and shadow never stand still."


West, Benjamin (1738-1820) was an American-born painter of historical, religious, and mythological subjects who had a profound influence on the development of historical painting in Britain.

  West was born on Oct. 10, 1738, of Quaker parents in Springfield (now Swarthmore) in the Pennsylvania colony. Young West was encouraged to draw, and it was said that he got his first paints from his Indian friends. When he was 16 his Quaker community approved art training for him. For a time West studied in Philadelphia and New York City. He also served as a militia captain in Indian campaigns in Pennsylvania. Then he went to Italy for three years of study. In 1763 he went to England and remained there for life.

Known in London as "the American Raphael," he became a friend of Sir Joshua Reynolds, England's leading painter. Soon other influential Londoners, Samuel Johnson for one, took an interest in the young American. King George III commissioned him to paint several pictures, and in 1772 he appointed West historical painter to the king with an annual allowance of 1,000 pounds. By another royal appointment West was made a charter member of the Royal Academy, succeeding Reynolds as president in 1792.

West painted historical and religious subjects on huge canvases. Among his famous works are "Agrippina Landing at Brundisium with the Ashes of Germanicus" (1768); "The Death of General Wolfe" (1771), the controversial painting in which he broke away from classical costumes - the first major artist working in England to do so; "Penn's Treaty with the Indians" (1772); and "Death on a Pale Horse" (1817), which anticipated developments in French romantic painting.

One of the first American artists to win a wide reputation in Europe, Benjamin West exerted considerable influence on the development of art in the United States through such young American painters as Gilbert Stuart, Charles Willson Peale, and John Singleton Copley.

West died on March 11, 1820, in London.


"The Death of General Wolfe" (1771) Oil on canvas, 152.6 x 214.5 cm - 60.1 x 84.4 in. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Canada.

"Erasistratus the Physician Discovers the Love of Antiochus for Stratonice" (1772) Oil on canvas, 125 x 183 cm - 49 x 72 in. Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, Alabama, USA.

"Edward III Crossing the Somme" (1788) Oil on canvas, 137.2 x 149.9 cm - 54 x 59 in. Royal Collection, Windsor Castle, Berkshire, UK.

"The Treaty of Penn with the Indians" (between 1771 and 1772) Oil on canvas, 190 x 274 cm - 74.8 x 107.9 in. Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.

"Portrait of Raphael West and Benjamin West, Jr." (1775) Oil on canvas, 80 x 104.14 cm - 31" x 3' 5". Private collection.

"General William Johnson saving French Officer Baron Dieskau at the Battle of Lake George, 1755" (between 1764 and 1768) Oil on canvas.

"The Golden Age" (1776) Oil on canvas, 654 x 765 cm - 257.5 in x 301.2 in. Tate Britain, London, UK.

"Epponia giving bread to her husband Sabinus in concealment" (1784) Oil on canvas, 43 x 34 cm -16.93 x 13.39 in. Private collection.

Text source: 'Webmuseum' (

Related Artists:

Related Terms: Realism, Classicism, Romanticism.

"Portrait of painter Benjamin West" (1783-84) by Gilbert Stuart.

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