The Old Print Shop

Benjamin West

1738 -1820

Benjamin West PRA was an American-born artist, best known for his historical paintings. Born near Springfield, Pennsylvania, West showed artistic talent from a young age and was working as a successful portrait artist in eastern Pennsylvania by the time he was twenty. He also worked briefly in New York City. In 1760, with the help of friends, West journey to Italy to further his studies in painting. Three years later, in 1763, he traveled to London, where he would remain for the rest of his life. The first exhibition West had in the city was held in 1764. His talents soon after attracted the attention of King George III, who commissioned sixty paintings from him over the course of his life, the first of which was "The Departure of Regulus from Rome" (1769).

West was one of the founders of the Royal Academy of Arts, established in 1768, and in 1771 the Academy exhibited one of his most famous paintings "The Death of General Wolfe." The piece was particularly noteworthy, and controversial, because it was the first major painting of a contemporary event to dismiss classical norms - the soldiers are depicted in modern uniforms instead of classical drapery. General Wolfe had been mortally wounded at the Battle of Quebec on September 13, 1759 during the French and Indian War (also known as the Seven Years' War). 

Although West never returned to the United States, his influence reached its shored through his students, Gilbert Stuart and Charles Willson Peale being just two of them.