West, Benjamin

West, Benjamin an eminent American painter, was born at Springfield, Pa., Oct. 10, 1738. He early discovered the artistic genius, sketching a rude likeness of his baby sister at seven years of age, and at the age of eight combining parts of two pictures into an original design, which he produced in colors on canvas to the infinite delight of his friends. At nine years of age he was introduced into the studio of an artist in, Philadelphia named Williams, who gave him encouragement and furnished him with books on painting, and young West returned home fully resolved to be a. painter. His parents, although Friends (and that body of believers were not favorable to the art), encouraged him in his determination, believing that he was predestinated to be an artist. His first painting that attracted any considerable notice was the portrait of Mrs. Ross, a very beautiful lady, the wife of a lawyer of Lancaster. This effort gained him so many orders for portraits that he could scarcely meet them. About the same time a. gunsmith named Henry commissioned him to paint a picture of the Death of Socrates. Being at a loss for a model for the slave who was to hand the cup of poison to the philosopher, the gunsmith brought him a half-naked Negro, and the picture was finished. About this time Dr. Smith, provost of the college at Philadelphia, induced young West to enter upon a course of study in that institution which should fit him for the high station he was destined to fill. He remained here until he was eighteen, with the exception of a short time when he accompanied Major Sir Peter Halkert as a volunteer to search for the remains and bury the bones of the army which had been lost under General Braddock. On his return from this expedition, he was called to witness the death of his mother, after which he returned to Philadelphia and set up as a portrait painter. When he had exhausted his patronage in Philadelphia, he removed to New York, where he met with still better success. In 1760 he was assisted by some wealthy merchant to go abroad for the improvement of his talents. At Rome he was patronized by Lord Grantham, whose portrait he painted, became the friend of Mengs, and, as the first American artist ever seen in Italy, attracted much attention. He pursued his studies in Italy for three years, during which he was greatly assisted by wealthy Americans. He painted his Cimon and Iphigenia, and Angelica and Medora, and was elected member of the academies of Florence, Bologna, and Parma. In 1763, visiting England on his wav to America, he was induced to remain in London, and in 1765 married Eliza Shewell, an American lady, to whom he had been engaged before going to Europe. He painted for the archbishop of York a picture of Agrippina Landing with the Ashes of Germanicus, which attracted the attention of George III, who became his steady friend and patron for forty years, during which time he sketched or painted over four hundred pictures. His first painting for the king was the Departure of Regulus from Rome, and it was so entirely satisfactory >that the artist was received by the king on terms of intimacy from that time onward. West was one of the founders of the Royal Academy in 1768, and succeeded Sir Joshua Reynolds as its president in 1792, but declined the honor of knighthood. His Death of General Wolfe, painted in the costume of the period against the advice of all the most distinguished painters, effected a revolution in historic art. For the king he painted a series of twenty-eight religious pictures for Windsor Castle. His best-known works ate, Christ Healing the Sick: — Death on the Pale Horse: — and the Battle of La Hogue. He attempted many wonderful, and to most artists dangerous, subjects, such as, Moses Receiving the Law on Sinai: — Descent of the Holy Ghost on the Saviour in the Jordan: — Opening of the Seventh Seal: — St. Michael and his Angels Casting Out the Great Dragon: — The Mighty Angel with One Foot on the Sea and the Other on the Earth: — the Resurrection: and others of like character. He died in London, March 11, 1820, and was buried with great pomp in St. Paul's Cathedral. See Spooner, Biog. Hist. of the Fine Arts, s.v.; Gait, The Life and Studies of Benjamin West (Lond. 1816-20); Cunningham, Lives of Eminent British Painters.

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