Benjamin West: Allegory and Allegiance

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Benjamin West (1738-1820) occupies a significant place in both American and British art histories. Born in Springfield Township (now Swarthmore), Pennsylvania, he was sent to study in Europe, opened a studio in London in 1763, and was appointed historical painter to King George III in 1772. This publication focuses on paintings by West which took their inspiration from The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser. Derrick Cartwright's essay explores West's use of Spensarian imagery, arguing that this long, complex, sixteenth-century poem allowed West to express his own conflicting allegiances as an American-born painter who enjoyed enormous success as an expartriate living in London. Illustrations include the three known paintings West based on Spenser, other works by West, preparatory drawings, prints produced by other artists based on West's paintings, as well as paintings by Copley, Reynolds, Watts, and even Lee Woodward Zeigler (a twentieth century American artist), all of whom produced works based on The Faerie Queene.

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Derrick R. Cartwright is the director of the San Diego Museum of Art.

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