DEATH: 1820 WEST
BIRTH: 1818 LECLEAR
Died on 11 March 1820: Benjamin
West, US Neoclassical
painter born on 10 October 1738.
Benjamin West was born in Pennsylvania; and died in London, England. He specialized in historical scenes and portraits. He was a leading English artist in his time. He was largely self-taught. He painted portraits in Philadelphia from 1746 to 1759. On a trip to Italy in 1759 he acquired a classical style of painting by copying the works of Titian and Raphael.
In 1763, West moved to England and set up shop as a portrait painter. He became friends with Sir Joshua Reynolds. King George III commissioned him to do portraits of members of the royal family. Later he became historical painter to the court. West was a founding member of the Royal Academy. In 1792, he became the second president of the Academy. He was a leader in the realistic movement. His painting The Death of Wolfe (1771) broke the usual tradition of depicting soldiers in contemporary battle scenes wearing Greco-Roman costumes. West taught many painters including: Gilbert Charles Stuart, John Singleton Copley, Charles Willson Peale, Thomas Sully, Mather Brown, John Downman, Ralph Earl, Charles Robert Leslie, John Linnell, Matthew Pratt, Henry Sargent, Edward Savage, and John Trumbull.
Benjamin West, painter of historical scenes and portraits, was one of the leading artists of his time. He was born in Pennsylvania, and was largely self-taught. He painted portraits in Philadelphia from 1746 to 1759. He went to Italy in 1759 and acquired a classical style of painting by copying the works of such Italian masters as Titian and Raphael. In 1763 West moved to England, where he soon gained the friendship of the English portraitist Sir Joshua Reynolds and the patronage of King George III, who commissioned him to execute portraits of members of the royal family and, in 1772, appointed him historical painter to the court. West was a founder, in 1768, of the Royal Academy of Arts and on Reynolds's death in 1792 succeeded him to the presidency. He became a leader of the developing realistic movement when his painting The Death of Wolfe (1771) broke the usual tradition of depicting soldiers in contemporary battle scenes wearing Greco-Roman costumes. West encouraged and influenced many young American painters who studied under him in London, among them Gilbert Charles Stuart and John Singleton Copley.
One of the first American artists to win a wide reputation in Europe, Benjamin West exerted considerable influence on the development of art in the United States through such young American painters as Gilbert Stuart, Charles Willson Peale, and John Singleton Copley. West abandoned the tradition of painting people in Greek and Roman dress, the first major artist working in England to do so. West was born of Quaker parents in in the Pennsylvania colony. Young West was encouraged to draw, and it was said that he got his first paints from his Indian friends. When he was 16 his Quaker community approved art training for him. For a time West studied in Philadelphia and New York City. He also served as a militia captain in Indian campaigns in Pennsylvania. Then he went to Italy for three years of study. In 1763 he went to England and remained there for life.
Known in London as "the American Raphael," he became a friend of Sir Joshua Reynolds, England's leading painter. Soon other influential Londoners, Samuel Johnson for one, took an interest in the young American. King George III commissioned him to paint several pictures, and in 1772 he appointed West historical painter to the king with an annual allowance of 1000 pounds. By another royal appointment West was made a charter member of the Royal Academy, succeeding Reynolds as president in 1792.
West painted historical and religious subjects on huge canvases. Among his famous works are Agrippina Landing at Brundisium with the Ashes of Germanicus (1768); The Death of General Wolfe (1771), the controversial painting in which he broke away from classical costumes; Penn's Treaty with the Indians (1772); and Death on a Pale Horse (1817), which anticipated developments in French romantic painting. Modern critics regard West's figures as somewhat stiff, his colors harsh, and his themes uninspired, but they respect his leadership and influence on later artists. West died on March 11, 1820, in London.
American-born painter of historical, religious, and mythological subjects who had a profound influence on the development of historical painting in Britain. He was historical painter to George III (1772-1801), a founder of the Royal Academy (1768), and in 1792 he succeeded Sir Joshua Reynolds as its president.
As a young man, West showed precocious artistic talent and was sent to Philadelphia in 1756 to study painting. At 20 years of age he was a successful portraitist in New York City and in 1760, through the assistance of friends, he sailed for Italy, where Neoclassicism was rapidly gaining ground. West visited most of the leading art cities of Italy and in 1763 went to London, where he set up as a portrait painter. His subsequent patronage by George III and the assurance of financial support from the crown absolved him of the necessity to continue to earn a living through portraiture.
In London he soon became intimate with Sir Joshua Reynolds and gained widespread popularity. The Death of General Wolfe (1771; several versions exist), one of his best-known and at the time most controversial works, made a noteworthy concession to realism in its use of modern dress rather than antique drapery to depict a contemporary historical event within a classical composition. It was considered by many academicians to be an affront to the art of history painting, but ultimately it was a popular success and won Reynolds' approval.
Though loyal to America, West retained the king's friendship and patronage until 1801. In 1802 he visited Paris and exhibited his final sketch for Death on the Pale Horse (1802; several versions exist), which anticipated developments in French Romantic painting. He never returned to the United States, but through such pupils as Washington Allston, Gilbert Stuart, Charles Willson Peale, and John Singleton Copley, he exerted considerable influence on the development of art in that country during the first decades of the 19th century.
Self-Portrait (1756) Self-Portrait (1770)
The Death of General Wolfe (1770, 153x215cm) _ detail _ This is an episode of the conquest of Quebec in 1759.
George Harry lord Grey (1765) Genius Calling Forth the Fine Arts to Adorn Manufactures and Commerce (1789, 49x62cm) Cupid Stung by a Bee (1802) Christ Healing the Sick (1794) A Domestic Affliction Pharaoh and His Host Lost in the Red Sea (1792, 99x78cm)
The Treaty of Penn with the Indians (1772, 190x274cm) _ The genre in which English painters were least happy in the second half of the 18th century was history painting; the efforts of Reynolds in this direction are strangely petrified for so living a painter. Yet it was through history painting that Neo-Classicism invaded the art in England. A Scot, Gavin Hamilton (1738-1820) and an American, Benjamin West, who enjoyed a prodigious success, were in advance of the French painter Jacques-Louis David in the conception of a painting as a scene from Classical history, based upon thorough archeological research. West was most successful when least pretentious; his illustrations of English historical events are simply illustrations, simply composed, uneffectedly direct. Neo-classicism had trained West to give value to the facts of the scene depicted, removing anything merely decorative or liable to spoil the sense of witnessing an actual event.
Edward III Crossing the Somme (1788, 137x150cm) _ Benjamin West, arrived in England in 1763, after spending three years in Italy. He quickly gained the patronage of George III, for whom he became Historical Painter in 1772 carrying out a number of projects, especially at Windsor Castle, involving classical, historical and religious subjects. West was a founding member of the Royal Academy of Arts in 1768 and succeeded Sir Joshua Reynolds as President in 1792.
A series of eight paintings illustrating events from the reign of Edward III was commissioned from West by George III to decorate the Audience Chamber at Windsor Castle. The task took three years to complete from 1786 to 1789, but the arrangement was dismantled by George IV during the mid-1820s when much of Windsor Castle was redesigned by Jeffry Wyatville. However, a view of the Audience Chamber with the pictures still in place is included in W. H. Pyne's The History of the Royal Residences of 1819. The present painting was double-hung on the left of the throne balancing The Burghers of Calais on the right, positioned above the door.
The series illustrates Edward III's campaign in northern France during the summer of 1346. Edward III crossing the Somme is the first in the sequence and shows an incident preceding the Battle of Crécy, when the king was trying to cross the River Somme at Blanche Tache, near Abbeville, in order to escape the French army. Edward III encountered and engaged a part of the French force under Godemar de Faye, the outcome of which, like the Battle of Crécy itself, was dependent upon the skill of the English archers seen in the upper right of the composition. The king is on horseback just to the right of centre and the figures accompanying him can be identified with the aid of a key provided by the artist for George III.
A subject taken from medieval history was an unusual choice for this date. According to West's earliest biographer, John Galt, it was George III who, 'recollecting that Windsor Castle had, in its present form, been created by Edward the Third, said, that he thought the achievements of his splendid reign were well calculated for pictures, and would prove very suitable ornaments to the halls and chambers of that venerable edifice.' In addition to his military prowess, Edward III had also been the founder of the Order of the Garter that is so closely associated with Windsor Castle. The paintings by West must be seen, therefore, as part of a revival of interest in the Middle Ages that was being pioneered by antiquarians such as Joseph Struttz and Francis Grose, to whose works the artist clearly referred for details of the arms, armor, and dress. For the historical narrative the primary sources in English were an early translation of the Chronicles (1325-1400) of Jean Froissart and the History of England (1754-62) by David Hume. West's work showed that ideal truth could be sought in themes unrelated to antiquity, and his lively treatment of such subject matter reveals his innovative qualities as an artist.
Born on 11 March 1818: Thomas
LeClear, US painter who died on 26 November 1882.
Interior with Portraits (1865, 66x103cm) _ This is virtual reality, 19th century-style For three or four centuries, you hired a painter to capture your loved one's features for posterity. But then, after daguerreotypes were introduced in 1839, suddenly you had a choice. You could have a colorful, often life-sized painted likeness that looked more or less like your relative, or you could have a tiny, monochrome, but startlingly REAL photograph. This picture is unsigned and undated. According to family history it was painted by LeClear about 1865. Supposedly LeClear was commissioned to make the picture by an elder brother of these two children in the picture.
The boy had just died when the picture was requested, but he was not then the young child shown here. He was a 26-year-old volunteer fireman who had just died in a hotel fire. His older sister had already died when she was an adolescent, more than fifteen years before the picture was made. The little boy in the picture looks definitely dead, even stuffed. It is likely that the painter, for lack of live models to get likenesses, used a daguerreotype of them as a substitute. If so, he was not one of the many painters who felt threatened by the new photography and vowed never to use photos as aids, claiming that very special qualities made paintings greatly superior.
Here's the villain of this game, the photographer himself. Should we read anything into the fact that he's portrayed from the rear and conceals his face from us under his cloth? (Incidentally, his wet collodion camera was not manufactured before 1860, and this helps us date the painting.) Landscape painting now becomes merely a background foil for photography. This must have been a rude jibe at all the heroic Hudson River and western landscapes that were dominating the public exhibition rooms just then. This old patriarch with altarlike frame presides disapprovingly over the scene. Could a photographer make a likeness of an ancient patriarch? Unlikely! But now he's almost obscured by the backdrop, relegated to the past. All the paraphernalia of the professional artist is arrayed in this studio, which, by the way, we know was in a famous artists' building called the Tenth Street Studio Building in New York.