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Benjamin West

James Smith1770

Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery

Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery

Born Springfield, Pennsylvania

Benjamin West was on his way back to Philadelphia after three years of art study in Italy when he arrived in London in 1763. Soon finding himself under the patronage of King George III, he never left. The first American artist to achieve an international reputation, West had an even greater claim to fame, nurturing three generations of American artists who came to him for teaching, direction, and good counsel. "He never, indeed, appeared to be more gratified," a contemporary observed, "than when engaged in enlightening the minds of those who looked up to him for instruction."

West's portrait here shows him during the period he was at work on The Death of General Wolfe, a landmark in the development of history painting. This epic event, which occurred at the 1759 Battle of Quebec, determined that the British, rather than the French, would control the North American continent.

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