BENJAMIN WEST, the greatest of the early American painters, was of Eng]ish descent and Quaker parentage. He
was born in Springfield, Pennsylvania, in 1738. From what source he inherited his genius it is hard to imagine,
since the tenets and tendencies of the Quaker faith were not calculated to encourage the genius of art, but at
the age of nine years, with no suggestion except that of inspiration, we find him choosing his model from life,
and laboring over his first work calculated to attract public notice. It was a representation of a sleeping child
in its cradle. The brush with which he painted it was made of hairs which he plucked from the cat's tail, and the
colors were obtained from the war paints of friendly Indians, his mother's indigo bag, and ground chalk and charcoal,
and the juice of berries; but there were touches in the rude production tha!t he declared in later days were a
credit to his best works. !The picture attracted notice, for a council was called at once to pass upon the boy's
conduct in thus infringing the laws of the society. There were judges among them who saw in his genius a rare gift
and their wisdom prevailed, and the child was given permission to follow his inclination. He studied und!!r a painter
named Williams, and then spent some years as a portrait painter with advancing, success. At the age of twentytwo
he went to Italy, and not until he had perfected himself by twenty three years of labor in that paradise of art
was he satisfied to turn his face toward home. However, he stopped at London, and decided to settle there, sending
to America for his intended bride to join hint Though the Revolution ary war was raging, King George III showed
the American artist the highest consideration and regard. His remuneration from works for royalty amounted to five
thousand dollars per year for thirty years.
West's best known work in America is, perhaps, The Death of General Wolf. West was one of the thirty six original
members of the Royal acad!emy and succeeded! Joshua Reynolds as president, which position he held until his death.
His early works were his best, as he ceased to display originality in his later life, conventionality having seriously
affected his efforts. He died in 1820.
A Biographical Record
Of Schuyler County, New York
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company
New York and Chicago 1903.
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