West, Benjamin (1738–1820)

Painter. Born in Pennsylvania, the son of an innkeeper, West travelled to Italy in 1760 and England in 1763, remaining there for the rest of his life. Although he worked in a number of genres, West became best known, first, as a history painter and, later in his career, as a painter of religious subjects. His works included, Agrippina Landing at Brundisium with the Ashes of Germanicus (1768) and The Departure of Regulus from Rome (1769), the latter commissioned by George III. His The Death of General Wolfe (1770) demonstrated that it was possible to apply the principles and style of history painting to a near-contemporary event. Uncompleted works included a commission from William Beckford (1760–1844; DNB) to supply a series of paintings drawn from Revelation for Fonthill Abbey. West played an important role in obtaining the monarch’s patronage for a Royal Academy of Arts in 1768 and became its President in 1792. Royal favour gained him decorative commissions for Windsor Castle and the appointments of historical painter to the King (1772) and Surveyor of the King’s Pictures (1791). West rejected a knighthood in the early 1790s, mistakenly believing that he would instead be offered a hereditary title. He was not. Southey attended a dinner at the Royal Academy in 1817.

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