Notes on Benjamin West and John Copley - The first American Artists

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Notes on Benjamin West and John Copley - The first American Artists

Post  aqalieh95 on Sat Mar 12, 2011 9:08 pm

Benjamin West (1738-1820)

  • Was a true rags to riches story
  • Lived in Philadelphia, and came from a Quaker background
  • Had little education, but was talented
  • Dr Smith sponsored him because of his talent
  • Went to Rome to study at the age of 22
  • Was exposed to classical Roman pose and style
  • Went to England and became good friends with King George III
  • Founded the National Academy of Arts in Great Britain
  • Was the father of American art and many of his students became great American artists
  • Was the official history painter of King George III and did paintings for historical events

Portrait of Colonel Guy Johnson and Karonghyontye
Benjamin West, 1776, Oil on canvas

Characteristics of Benjamin West:

  • Has a neoclassical pose and lighting that he learned while studying in Rome
  • Makes Guy Johnson, the British man, look superior to the Native American because he is painting for the British government
  • Very dramatic, an element of neoclassical painting as well.


John S. Copley (1738-1815)

  • Was born in Boston to a poor Irish family
  • His dad was an engraver, and learned the skills of very good contour line drawing from an early age
  • Married a pro-British wife, so he was also in support of Britain
  • While he lived in Boston, he did portraits of wealthy people
  • Right before the war for independence in the US, he left for Great Britain to avoid the conflict
  • Learned from Benjamin West and became one of his best students

Boy with Squirrel
John Singleton Copley, 1765, Oil on canvas

Characteristics of J S Copley

  • Is very good at expressing people's personalities using subtle techniques, and the objects in their hand. For example, in this, he has a squirrel in his hand, and is looking away, and has a cuffed collar, so he looks like he loves the outdoors and is active.
  • The boy is wearing fancy silk clothes and his squirrel is chained with gold, so he is from a very wealthy family.

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