PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST
Oil on panel
13.5” x 11.5”
An oil on panel portrait after an 1810 portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence. now at the Yale Center for British Art. American-born Benjamin West was one of the most prominent artists in late eighteenth century London. President of the Royal Academy from 1792 until his death, he received many commissions from George III and other English patrons, and at the same time served as teacher and advisor to three generations of American artists in London. He was born in Springfield, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia. His exceptional talent was quickly recognized, and he was commissioned to paint portraits in eastern Pennsylvania and New York City. He went to Italy in 1760 to continue his study of painting and after three years, spent primarily in Rome, Florence, and Venice, he settled in London.
The artist of the original portrait, Thomas Lawrence, born in Bristol in 1769 was also a child prodigy. His family moved to London in 1787 and two years later he exhibited a full length portrait at the Royal Academy. He moved in the same London circles as West in 1792 he succeeded Joshua Reynolds as Painter-in-Ordinary to the King, and in 1794 he became a full Academician. From 1793 he had pupils and studio assistants. He succeeded West as President of the Royal Academy after West’s death in 1820. Lawrence’s portrait of Benjamin West was painted close to the time of his death when he West was plagued by ill health. The portrait depicts him with a solemn countenance against an indistinct and dark background wearing a dark banyan or robe. The contrast of West’s face, bald head and white stock is severe.
A number of excellent copies were made at the time of Lawrence’s original. This iteration is very similar to one painted by the inventor and painter, Samuel F.B. Morse (1791-1872, now at the National Academy in New York) who actually met West in 1811 while a student at the Royal Academy. Another source might be an engraving of the Lawrence portrait was published by Hurst, Robinson & Company, London, 1820, engraved by Edward Scriven (1775-1841).