Benjamin West was born in 1738 as the youngest son of John West and Sarah Person, who was married twice and had ten children. John west had different roles such as tinsmith, copper, and innkeeper at different places. Among them, Benjamin was born in Pennsylvania. He had a happy childhood and showed great interest in art from an early age, and his parents supported him. He drew his infant niece when he was only six years old. Benjamin had no access to the tools in colonial America days. He used his cat's fur as a paintbrush and acquired knowledge about pigment from the local Native Americans.
Education and early family
Despite Benjamin's lack of formal education or training, he was successful, and his talent caught the eyes of many mentors who helped him grow as an artist. When Benjamin was nine, he met William Williams, who gave him an art book, and was introduced to painting. When Benjamin turned 15, he was a great portrait painter and had gained local popularity. After meeting William Henry, an advocate of history painting and a rich entrepreneur, Benjamin's fortune was set. Henry took Benjamin under his care, telling him that his talents shouldn't be wasted by just making portrait paintings, and he should focus on historical subjects. He recommended Socrates as a subject, and with that, Benjamin produced the first secular painting in America at the age of 18.
Then William Smith invited Benjamin to live nearby so that he can look after him. He then took part in Classical learning and got highly praised by William Smith. Benjamin moved ahead without the help of any master and had correctness and delicacy in his art that made him great. After that, Benjamin moved to New York and made money by portrait painting, but he was not happy. He thought New York was less intelligent regarding taste and knowledge than his old friends.
1760 was a turning point for Benjamin when he traveled to Italy to learn more about art from his old masters. He was one of the first Americans born to do something like that. The art he saw in Europe had a great influence on his work and neo-classicism that dominated the culture of America. Benjamin was obsessed with sculpture. When he returned to the role, he studied the influential 18th-century German artist Johann Joachim Winckelmann, Angelica Kauffman, and Gavin Hamilton. Under Winckelmann's wing, Benjamin studied the art of classical Rome and Greece to give a new vision to his political ideals. Benjamin spent most of his time catching up to his artist training, sketching Italian masters, and study classical sculpture.
He later traveled to Bologna, Florence, Parma, Venice and got fame.
When Benjamin was in Italy, he became ill with a dangerous bout of osteomyelitis. It made him stay in his room for six months, but he was very dedicated and continued to paint, being bedridden. By 1770 Benjamin became one of the most successful artists in London, and in the same year, he published one of his best works, The Death of General Wolfe, showing the battle of Quebec. It had a great influence on the art world and changed the artist's view towards history painting.
He continued to experience ill health and suffered from bone infection, gout, and chronic rheumatism. Despite this, he lived his life positively and worked hard, for which he was very popular in his time. He died in 1820 at the age of 81 and got buried at the mother church of London, which was the resting place of Joshua Reynolds too.