Saturday, January 22, 2011

Benjamin West

                                                The Death of General Wolfe

West, Benjamin - American painter. He was born in Springfield, Pennsylvania, to a Quaker family. An early talent for drawing led to classes with William Williams, an English amateur living in the United States, and Gustav Heselius, a Swedish artist. In 1760, West travelled to Europe, and spent three years in Italy before settling in London in 1763. In Rome he met Hamilton and came into contact with Neoclassicism, which he experimented with in works such as Agrippina with the Ashes of Germanicus (1767, New Haven, Yale), a picture which brought him to the attention of George III (he became history painter to the king), and the Departure of Regulus from Rome (1769, Royal Collection). In 1771 he produced the ground breaking Death of Wolfe (1770, Ottawa, National Gallery of Canada), in which his Neoclassicism was tempered by modern subject matter and modern dress, to create contemporary history painting. This and other similar works brought tremendous popularity and, through the sale of engravings, financial reward. From the 1780s West also began to experiment with an almost Romantic style, incorporating dramatic lighting and fantasy and literary subjects (e.g. King Lear, 1788-1906, Boston, Museum of Fine Art). He produced portraits in a similar style. In 1792, he succeeded Reynolds as President of the RA. He was also employed on the decoration of the state rooms at Windsor

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