My last post was about John Trumbull, often called the “Painter of the American Revolution.” In my next few posts I’m going to take a look at several of the most important early American artists. Today we’ll focus on Benjamin West, who received great acclaim while living in London as the “American Raphael” and significantly influenced Trumbull and many other American artists in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
|Birthplace of Benjamin West|
|Self Portrait, Benjamin West, 1776|
West’s trip to Italy in 1760 to further his art training was financed by several patrons. In 1763, on his way home to America, he stopped off in London, where he showed his paintings of historical scenes in the new neoclassical style to great public acclaim, including from King George III. His American patrons advised him to stay in London, and he did so, moving into a house in Bedford Street, Covent Garden, and in 1765 marrying Elizabeth Shewell, a fellow American.
|Death of General Wolfe|
West’s personality and good looks continued to make him a favorite in society and held the king’s confidence throughout the turmoil of the American Revolution. The two men were quickly on intimate terms, often discussing the state of art in England and the establishment of a Royal Academy of Arts, which became a reality in 1768, with the famous artist Sir Joshua Reynolds as its first president. Among the many paintings West completed are nine portraits of members of the royal family, including two of the king. He was appointed Surveyor of the King’s Pictures in 1791, a position he held for the rest of his life. On Reynolds’ death in 1792, West was elected president of the Royal Academy of Arts and held that position, except for one year, until his own death at his house in Newman Street, London, on March 11, 1820. He was buried in St Paul’s Cathedral.
|Joshua passing the River Jordan|
with the Ark of the Covenant, 1800
Do you think the visual arts are important in culture and society? How and why? Please share your thoughts!
~~~J. M. Hochstetler is the daughter of Mennonite farmers and a lifelong student of history. She is a professional editor, a publisher, and the author of award-winning historical fiction whose books have been endorsed by bestselling authors such as Lori Benton, Laura Frantz, and Jocelyn Green. Her American Patriot Series is the only comprehensive historical fiction series on the American Revolution. Book 6, Refiner’s Fire, released in 2019. She is also the author of One Holy Night, the Christian Small Publishers 2009 Book of the Year, and co-authored the award-winning Northkill Amish Series with Bob Hostetler.