Benjamin West
Date: American painter and draftsman, 1738–1820, active in Great Britain
Biography: Born in rural Pennsylvania, Benjamin West became official history painter to King George III and was one of the founders of the British Royal Academy. Largely self-taught, West claimed that Native Americans first taught him to make paint by mixing clay and bear grease. He painted portraits as a boy and received encouragement from patrons including Dr. William Smith, dean of the College of Philadelphia, who expanded West's education and introduced him to important Philadelphians. Under Smith's patronage, West met John Wollaston, a British immigrant portrait painter, and absorbed key elements of Wollaston's style—like the expertly painted satin and almond-shaped eyes seen in the Delaware Art Museum's portrait of Ann Inglis. In 1760, sponsored by Smith and William Allen, reputed to be the wealthiest man in Philadelphia, West traveled to Italy to study the Renaissance painters and then to England. In London, he met Sir Joshua Reynolds and Samuel Johnson, among other luminaries. He began to receive commissions and decided to stay, marrying American Elizabeth Shewell at St. Martin-in-the-Fields in 1765. After the successful exhibition of his ambitious history painting, The Death of General Wolfe, in 1770, he was appointed historical painter to the court and given an annual stipend by the king. In the early 19th century West painted large religious pictures, some destined for American venues, and instructed and mentored young American painters, including Samuel Morse, Charles Willson Peale, Rembrandt Peale, Gilbert Stuart, John Trumbull, and Thomas Sully.