Benjamin West

Life Dates
1738-1820

Benjamin West was born in 1738 in Springfield, Pennsylvania, just outside Philadelphia, in a house that still stands on the campus of Swarthmore College. His father was an innkeeper, and West claimed to have been taught by Native Americans, who showed him how to make paint by mixing clay and natural pigments with bear fat. West built his reputation as a portraitist in and around Philadelphia, and his famous portrait of his friend Benjamin Franklin hangs in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. His renown spread to England and he left Philadelphia to settle in London in 1763. West flourished as a history painter and collection advisor to the British elite and royal family. He also worked for the most successful members of the rising merchant class, including John Julius and Elizabeth Angerstein, whose portrait was purchased by Charles Knox Smith and hangs at Woodmere in the same gallery with West’s The Fatal Wounding of Sir Philip Sidney. In 1792, West became the President of the Royal Academy in London. 

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