West, Benjamin

West, Benjamin (1738-1820) Artist: Benjamin West was born near Springfield, Pennsylvania on October 10, 1738. At a young age, he showed a talent for art, and was sent to Philadelphia at the age of 18 to study painting. By the time he was 20, he was a successful portrait artist in New York. In 1760, his friends helped him afford a trip to Italy, where he learned about the neoclassical style which was becoming popular in Europe. After visiting most of the leading art cities in Italy. West went to London and established himself as a portrait painter. He obtained the patronage of King George III and financial support from the British crown, which meant that he did not need to continue painting portraits to earn a living. In London, he became a close friend of the artist Sir Joshua Reynolds. West's major contribution to art was his introduction of realism to historical paintings. In 'The Death of General Wolfe' (c. 1771), he depicted people in modern dress rather than antique clothing, although the painting was still classically composed. His most famous and most controversial work, this painting became a popular success. West remained a loyal patriot to the American cause, although the King of England remained his friend and patron until 1801. In 1802, West went to Paris to display a final sketch for "Death on the Pale Horse," the style of which foreshadowed the French Romantic style. Although West never returned to the United States, he influenced American painting substantially through his students, who included: Washington Allston, Gilbert Stuart, Charles Willson Peale and John Singleton Copley. West died in London, on March 11, 1820.