Benjamin West  
Benjamin West

watercolor on ivory
Yale University Art Gallery
Benjamin West, (born October 10, 1738, near Springfield, Pennsylvania—died March 11, 1820, London, England), American-born painter of historical, religious, and mythological subjects who had a profound influence on the development of historical painting in Britain. He was historical painter to George III (1772–1801) and a founder of the Royal Academy (1768), of which in 1792 he succeeded Sir Joshua Reynolds as president.

As a young man, West showed precocious artistic talent and was sent to Philadelphia in 1756 to study painting. At 20 years of age he was a successful portraitist in New York City and in 1760, through the assistance of friends, he sailed for Italy, where Neoclassicism was rapidly gaining ground. West visited most of the leading cities of Italy and in 1763 went to London, where he set up as a portrait painter. His subsequent patronage by George III and the assurance of financial support from the crown absolved him of the necessity to continue to earn a living through portraiture. In London he soon became intimate with Sir Joshua Reynolds and gained widespread popularity. “The Death of General Wolfe” (c. 1771; several versions exist), one of his best-known and—at the time—most controversial works, made a noteworthy concession to realism in its use of modern dress rather than antique drapery to depict a contemporary historical event within a classical composition. It was considered by many academicians to be an affront to the art of history painting, but ultimately it was a popular success and won Reynolds’ approval.

Though loyal to America, West retained the king’s friendship and patronage until 1801. In 1802 he visited Paris and exhibited his final sketch for “Death on the Pale Horse” (c. 1802; several versions exist), which anticipated developments in French Romantic painting. He never returned to the United States, but through such pupils as Washington Allston, Gilbert Stuart, Charles Willson Peale, and John Singleton Copley, he exerted considerable influence on the development of art in that country during the first decades of the 19th century.

Encyclopædia Britannica


The Burghers of Calais
Oil on canvas, 100 x 153 cm
Royal Collection, Windsor

Edward III Crossing the Somme
Oil on canvas, 137,2 x 149,9 cm
Royal Collection, Windsor

The Treaty of Penn with the Indians.
Oil on canvas, 190 x 274 cm
Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia

Oil on canvas
Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore


The Death of General Wolfe
Oil on canvas, 152,6 x 214,5 cm
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

Pylades and Orestes Brought as Victims to Iphigenia
oil on canvas
The Tate Gallery, London

Study for a window at St. Paul's Church, Birmingham


King Lear
oil on canvas
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


Death on a Pale Horse
oil on canvas
Detroit Institute of Arts

Benjamin Franklin Drawing Electricity from the Sky c. 1816 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Agrippina Landing at Brundisium with the Ashes of Germanicus
Oil on canvas, 164 x 240 cm
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven

Joseph Banks
Oil on canvas, 234 x 160 cm
Usher Art Gallery, Lincoln


The Battle of La Hogue
Oil on canvas, 164 x 244 cm
Private collection

Omnia Vincit Amor or The Power of Love in the Three Elements
Oil on canvas, 179 x 205 cm
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Portrait of George, Prince of Wales, and Prince Frederick, later Duke of York
Oil on canvas, 241 x 166 cm
The Hermitage, St. Petersburg

Portrait of Colonel Guy Johnson
c. 1775
Oil on canvas, 203 x 138 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington

Portrait of Prince William and His Elder Sister, Princess Sophia
Oil on canvas, 153 x 214 cm
Private collection