Painted Stories in Britain 6: Benjamin West and Modern Histories

The Eclectic Light Company

While Joseph Wright of Derby was painting his unusual chiaroscuro narratives of the Enlightenment, a new American artist stopped off in London, on his way home to Philadelphia. Over the next fifty-seven years he was among the leading history painters in Britain, painted for the King of England, and became the second President of the Royal Academy in London.

When Benjamin West was born in Springfield, Pennsylvania, in 1738, the edge of European ‘civilisation’ was only a hundred or so miles to the west. As the tenth child of an innkeeper, with little formal education, limited training in painting, and almost no knowledge of classical history or mythology, he seems an implausible figure. Quite how he became the eminent artist that he was when he died in 1820 isn’t clear either: the most detailed contemporary account of his life and work was written by a novelist, John Galt, who compiled…

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By penwithlit

Freelance writer and radio presenter

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