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now so far advanced as to receive considerable encouragement, peculiarly flattering to one in his situation, and he painted with success both portraits and historical pictures in Lancaster, Philadelphia, and NewYork. In these pleasing pursuits did he spend the season of his nonage, and by the time he had arrived at the period when youth looks forward with new hope and eager expectation, his emoluments had so increased, with his thirst for knowledge, and desire of improvement in his profession, that he determined to visit Italy, the cradle of the arts, the school of painters.
Hitherto his productions had been the effort of genius, unassisted by the studies of art-or but feebly assisted. Paintings of any character were rare in our country, and of the few to be found, the number must have been small indeed, that were calculated to afford assistance to talents like those possessed by our young artist. Painters were still more rare; and thus genius was left to grope out its way without a preceptor in the art to which it felt its strongest powers directed; without specimens which might detect its faults, or lead to their correction. Mr. West was soon convinced that it was absolutely necessary for his improvement, to study the works of the great masters; and that the rules of art though assisted by superior natural abilities, will never make an eminent painter, unless to these are added the force of examples. The patronage which he had already received, instead of making him contented with his acquirements, served only to rouse his ambition, and led him to aspire to that character which should not shrink from the scrutiny of criticism, or retire from the light of comparison.
With a mind determined, and which no obstacles could divert from its purpose, he embarked at Philadelphia for Italy in 1760, and after some delay at Gibraltar, arrived safely at Leghorn. Here having procured letters of recommendation to Cardinal Albani and others at Rome, he hastened to set out for that great city, then rich in every thing that could add to the delight and instruction of the scholar, and of which the hand of the plunderer of nations had not yet despoiled it. He soon made several valuable acquaintances at Rome, and among the rest was introduced to Raphael Minges, Pompio Battoni, together with other artists and gentlemen of character and influence. By their assistance he gained admission to all that was worthy of inspection; the cabinets of the curious were examined with eager attention, and the galleries of the wealthy explored with the eye of enthusiasm. Indeed such was the effect which these exhibitions had on his ardent mind, such was the enthusiastic zeal with which he viewed them, that a severe fit of illness was the consequence. Recovering from his indisposition, he prepared anew to resume his studies, which he pursued with a keenness
and avidity kuown only to those who are determined to accomplish what they have undertaken. The finest productions of the art were viewed with critical exactness, and in this minute examination of the works of the greatest masters we may look for that correctness of design and force of expression, so visible in the paintings of West. To the works of Angelo, Raphael, and Poussin, he devoted his principal attention. Angelo was perhaps the greatest designer that ever lived, and West well knew how absolutely essential it was to be excellent in this part of the profession, in which the genius of the painter is principally seen, and withont which a picture is a mere assemblage of beautiful colours, delighting the eye but not affecting the heart. To the invention of Angelo, he desired to unite the force, the majesty, and the elegance of Raplael, with the delicacy, softness, and simplicity of Poussin ; and his pictures show how well he succeeded in his intention.
Having completed for a time his studies at Rome, Florence presented a fine theatre for his genius to expatiate on, and to the galleries of that city he repaired; long celebrated as the repository of the arts, as the emporium of taste, and of elegance. Whether unremitted attention to the study of the fine models here exhibited, or the same kind of enthusiasm which affected him at Rome was the cause, West was again seized with sickness. His illness however did not prevent his progress in improvement, but led him to devise means by which he might yet continue in the cultivation of his art; and for this purpose he had a frame so contrived that he might paint while confined to the bed, in which manner he executed several works of fancy.
From Florence he visited all the celebrated collections of paintings dispersed in various cities of Italy, endeavouring by all means to be. come well acquainted with the works of those masters who have most excelled in the Lombard and Venetian schools. Here his imagination had a wide field to range in. He was dazzled by the brilliancy of the exquisite colouring of Titian, and enraptured by the grace, the purity, and correctness of Corregio. The school of the Carracci received also the admiration of West, and he gave much attention to their noble works; forcibly strucs by the grace and grandeur of Lewis, charmed by the conception and execution of Augustin, and astonished at the boldness and superiority of Hannibal. From these delightful excursions he returned once more to Rome, and while there, painted those two pictures which he afterwards exhibited in London, Cymon and Iphygenia, and Angelica and Madora.
Whether it was originally the intention of Mr. W'est to visit London, or whether the solicitation of his friends, or the munificence of George the Third, were his inducements we know not, probably all three concurred in determining him about this time to go thither. Quitting Rome he proceeded to Parma in order to finish a copy of the celebrated picture of St. Gerolemo by Corregio. Thence he went to Genoa and Turin, desirous of seeing the various works of Italian and Flemish master's to be found in those cities: and here he at length finished his studies of the art in Italy. Studies which had been commenced with enthusiasm, prosecuted with diligence, and completed with success.
Arrived at Paris he was to continue the study of the French school, which in examining with care the fine paintings of Poussin, he had so happily begun at Rome. Here, as in Italy, he sought out all those exquisite productions deposited in the galleries of the nobility, in the palaces of royal grandeur, in churches, monasteries, and private collections. The works of Le Brun, Le Sueur, Poussin and others, passed in review before him; nor did he suffer his admiration to lead his judgment astray, but was improved while he was delighted.
The English school was now the only one of any consequence whose productions had not been seen and studied by Mr. West. Reynolds was at its head, and was equally distinguished for taste, correctness, and execution. But besides the advantages which an artist might derive by studying the works of such a leader, it was also to be considered that many paintings of the great masters were scattered all over England, that it had been the principal theatre of some, and that here only their finest productions were to be found. Either of these causes were sufficient to carry him thither, and it has been already observed that there were others. West arrived in London in August 1763, and in the autumn of the same year he visited the celebrated collections of the country. The picture of the Pembroke family by Vandyck at Wilton was one which he viewed with vast care, and by which lie could not but be instructed and delighted : he also made the study of the Cartoons of Raphael at Hampton court his peculiar regard, and surely those were subjects worthy of every attention which lie could bestow upon them.
He had now completed his acquaintance with the schools, his genius was matured, and nothing remained but to fix his residence in some situation, where, assisted by patronage, he might exemplify by his practice the art of which he so well understood the theory. His native country presented a field entirely new; he was ambitious to excel in it, and to enrich it with his fairest flowers ; he had attachments there which were almost irresistible, and he could think of happiness nowhere but in its bosom. It was about this time that his majesty began to bestow his bounty with so liberal a hand, to encourage with praise and to reward with munificence. West hesitated-he reRected on the little encouragement which had hitherto been given to the arts in America, he contrasted it with royal patronage, and princely favour, he listened to the earnest solicitations of his friends, and determined to remain in England. This determination was aided by another cause. In April 1764, there was an exhibition of paintings at Spring Gardens, the productions of artists who had formed an institution for that purpose. Thither he was induced by his joint friends Reynolds and Wilson, to send his two pictures already mentioned, painted at Rome, as also a portrait of General Monck. These were favourably received ; and in the year following he was chosen a member and director of the institution. He drew there and continued his contributions until the opening of the Royal Academy by his Majesty in 1768. When that Institution was first contemplated, West was one of the persons named to submit a plan for it. The year previous he had been mentioned with high encomiums to the King, by Drummond, archbishop of York, and introduced with the celebrated picture of “
Agrippina landing at Brundusium with the ashes of Germanicus,” which he had painted for that prelate. A flattering reception was the consequence, and he was employed to paint “ The departure of Regulus for Carthage;" this was his first exhibition at the opening of the Royal Academy in 1769. Numerous were the paintings which he produced until 1772, when he was taken more immediately under royal patronage, by, being appointed historical painter to the
New honours now poured in upon him from all quarters, and from that time he has been continually receiving accessions; medals have been lavishingly bestowed, and various societies in every part of the world have hastened to admit him as a member of their institutions. On the death of Sir Joshua Reynolds he was unanimously elected to the presidency of the Royal Academy, and has since received the honour of knighthood.
These are among the principal events of Mr. West's life-it now remains to consider his character more minutely as a painter. The field which he has chosen for the chief display of his talents is history, both sacred and profane, dramatic and domestic; and though he no doubt has greatly excelled in portrats, yet historical painting is unquestionably his forte. To attain eminence in this style is the most difficult effort, while it is the highest ambition of a painter of true genius, for it requires great diversity of talent, as it unites in itself all the varieties of painting. An historical painter must possess in a peculiar degree, a quick invention, correctness of design, bold expression, and finished execution, aided by all the other arts of his profession. His object is to represent some distinguished action, and whatever is thought, felt, said, or done by the personages he would introciuce, must glow on his canvass and animate it into life. That West
has succeeded in this the most noble and magnificent style of painting, we need only refer to his works to be convinced of. Examine the “Arrival of Agrippina,” “ Death of Wolfe,” “ Departure of Regulus, Ha bal,” and other pictures of this great and the above assertion will be found correct to its utmost limit. The fine prints which have been executed from these paintings, place it in the power of every lover of the art to become acquainted with their distinguished excellence. These prints have been purchased with eagerness in every part of the world, and have extended the reputation of Mr. West wherever art is known, or science has a seat. Scripture has received various illustrations from the canvass of West; and here it is worthy of remark, that the finest productions of the art are those whose subjects are found in holy writ. Among the pictures of Mr. West drawn from this source are, “ Joseph's sons receiving the Blessing, “Witch of Endor," “ Stephen stoned,” “ A last Supper,” and numerous others. English history rich in materials for the painter, has afforded noble subjects for the pencil of West. In battle pieces he has been peculiarly happy, and has greatly excelled; those of Cressy, Poitiers, Nevis Cross, La Hogue, and the Boyne, are fine examples. • Almost all the modern English painters have been ambitious of adding to the glory of Shakspeare, and to their own character', by selecting the principal scenes of his drama as subjeets for their paintings; and thus a noble collection has been made, composing what is called the Shakspeare Gallery, originally set on foot by the patriotic Boydell. To this collection West has largely contributed, and among the rest has given elegant illustrations of scenes from Macbeth, Hamlet, Lear, &c. his picture of the “ Witches" has received great and deserved admiration. It would be endless to cnumerate the portraits and pictures he has painted for the royal family, for the nobility, for churches, collections, and individuals; they are to be found in most of the palaces and galleries throughout England. Some have even made their way to this country, they are liowever rare, and cannot be too highly estimated.
Though past the usual age of man, Mr. West still continues constant to his profession, he has a select collection of painting's which from time to time he still makes his study, and they doubtless add to his improvement, for such is the effect of having what is great and excellent always before us. Mr. West has now in his port-folios a number of drawings and sketches to the amount of two hundred: what a treasure to the world if he should live to finish them! since the first institution of the Royal Academy, his exhibitions have been numerous and constant, and in May last he produced there three pictures, which, in the estimation of correct judges, bore away the palm from all others;