Benjamin West

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Benjamin West: The Famous Historical Painter

Benjamin West was the youngest son of John West and Srah Person. In his early life, Benjamin held several roles- innkeeper, cooper, and tinsmith among them. Benjamin was fascinated with art from an early age. The British Colonists didn't have a strong art tradition, but it never stopped the artist from being the first internationally recognized artist. Mostly self-taught in his early career, the artist became one of the prominent portrait painters in Philadelphia and New York. Then he moved to Europe to learn from the old masters and Roman-Greek art. There, he was introduced to a new neoclassical style and painted many history paintings that were famous to the public.

His transition from historical to Romanticism

Wrapped in self-promotion and mythology, West was highly influential for the new American artists, including John Singleton and Gilbert Stuart. In the later period of his life, the transition to Romanticism can be seen and made him one of the first modern artists. Benjamin felt that art should tell ideal virtues and moralizing tales that can civilize and educate people. The artist was sensitive to English feelings; still, he insisted on painting on New World subjects. At the end of his career, he embraced Romanticism and was popular among the audience. West loved telling, evoking the sublime, and emphasizing dramatic stories through his works.

Some of his Famous artworks: 

  • Pylades and Orestes Brought as Victims before Iphigenia- this was the first major canvas of West, and the subjects were taken from the ancient Greek Euripides.
  • Agrippina Landing at Brundisium with the ashes of Germanicus- this is an almost 8-foot wide canvas.
  • The death of General Wolfe- represents a dramatic tale of the battle of the plains, also known as the Battle of Quebec.
  • The west family- this is more somber and quieter than West'sWest's neoclassical history paintings.
  • Death on pale Horse is one of West'sWest's major works, and he completed it just before three years of his death.

On March 11, 1820, Benjamin West died in his house at Newman Street, London, and was buried in St Paul'sPaul's Cathedral. The British Crown had offered him a knighthood, but he rejected it, believing that he should be a peer instead.