Benjamin West


Benjamin West
Benjamin West, a famous American painter, was born in Pennsylvania, where his father served as proprietor of a tavern. As a young child, he was taught to make paint by a group of Native Americans, and at the age of eight he began his art career as a portraitist. He did not receive much formal education but instead taught himself, and even in his later life he could barely write. In 1756, West designed a painting based on the engraving “Death of Socrates,” and the resulting work greatly increased his popularity. He was taken under the wing of Dr. William Smith, who arranged for his education and offered him connections with the Pennsylvania elite. During this time, West met the famous painter John Wollaston, who taught the younger artist several techniques.

In 1760, sponsored by both Dr. Smith and the wealthy William Allen, West travelled to Italy, where he improved his skills by copying the works of famous European painters. He then moved to England, where he was chosen by George III to create portraits of the royal family. In 1768, he founded the Royal Academy of Arts, and shortly thereafter, he painted his most famous work, The Death of General Wolfe, which, though originally snubbed by other members of the art world, soon became one of the most frequently reproduced images of the time. Within the year, he was appointed historical painter to the British Court, and in 1792 he was elected president of the Royal Academy of the Arts, a position that he kept until his death in 1820. During his life, he was close friends with Benjamin Franklin, and toward the end of his career he tutored many aspiring American artists, including Rembrandt Peale, Thomas Sully, and Gilbert Stuart.

Key events during the life of Benjamin West:

Worked as a portaitist in Pennasylvania.
Painted a work based on the engraving 'Death of Socrates.'
Travelled to Italy.
Moved to England and painted portraits of the royal family.
Founded the Royal Academy of the Arts.
Painted The Death of General Wolfe.
Was appointed historical painter to the British royal court.
Served as second president of the Royal Academy in London.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Our First Great Painter  in  Fifty Famous People  by  James Baldwin
How Benny West Learned to be a Painter  in  Stories of Great Americans for Little Americans  by  Edward Eggleston

Image Links

Benjamin West as a boy
 in Fifty Famous People

Painting Baby's Portrait
 in Stories of Great Americans for Little Americans

Benjamin West's picture of Penn's Treaty
 in Heroes of Progress in America

Benjamin West
 in Four American Inventors

Short Biography
Benjamin Franklin Statesman, publisher, inventor, and non-conformist. Founding father, and benefactor of Philadelphia.
George III Monarch whose long reign encompassed Revolutionary, and Napoleonic Wars.