Benjamin West - Painter

Benjamin West - Springfield/Swarthmore

Benjamin West was born in Springfield, Pennsylvania, in a house that is now in the borough of Swarthmore on the campus of Swarthmore College, as the tenth child of an innkeeper and his wife. The family later moved to Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, where his father was the proprietor of the Square Tavern, still standing at the corner of Goshen Road and Route 252.

Ben West was an autodidact, a self-taught person.  While excelling at the arts, "he had little formal education and, even when president of the Royal Academy, could scarcely spell". As a child he learned to mix paint from watching the Native Americans mixing clay from the riverbank with bear grease.

From 1746 to 1759 West worked in Pennsylvania, mostly painting portraits, but he was sponsored by wealthy patrons William Smith and William Allen, to travel to Italy to expand his abilities by copying works of the Italian painters.

He never returned to America, traveling to England and remaining there. He received Royal patronage from King George III becoming the Court painter. Two of his most famous paintings are: The Death of General Wolfe (1770) and Benjamin Franklin Drawing Electricity from the Sky (1816). The latter work resides at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

He died in London in 1816.