ARTIST OF THE WEEK: Benjamin West, 1738-1820
Benjamin West was an American painter who worked primarily in England after moving there in 1763. He began as a portrait artist to King George III’s court and family, but he is perhaps most famous for his history paintings and scenes of war: he lived through both the Seven Years War (1756-63) and the American War of Independence (1775-83), so there were plenty of opportunities to paint dynamic or thoughtful battle scenes, (see The Death of General Wolfe for a prime example). As an American painter working in England, West was hugely successful and popular (as were other artists in the same position, such as John Singleton Copley). This is perhaps because of the exoticism, excitement and intrigue surrounding an artist from outside of Europe.
In 1768, West became one of the founding members of the brand spanking new Royal Academy of the Arts at Burlington House in London, along with fellow painters Thomas Gainsborough, Angelica Kauffmann, Johann Zoffany and Joshua Reynolds, who was also appointed the position of the Academy’s President. West took over in 1792, was outvoted by James Wyatt in 1805, reinstated in 1806, and stayed as President till his death in 1820.