Baroque and Beyond C. 1600–1850

Neoclassical Art

Who was Benjamin West?

Benjamin West (1738–1820) was an American-born painter who studied in Philadelphia and Rome before establishing a successful career as a history painter in London, making him the first American artist with such a successful international career; he even served as president of the British Royal Academy of Art after Joshua Reynolds, and was financially support by a powerful patron, King George III. West’s historical paintings strongly adhered to neoclassical conventions; however, in a surprising change from tradition, West’s The Death of General Wolfe (1770) depicted contemporary, rather than historical events, and included images of the king’s army wearing their contemporary uniforms, not ancient dress. Although the king (and Joshua Reynolds) aggressively disliked this change, it proved extremely popular amongst the public. The king changed his tune, and named West the royal history painter.


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