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Benjamin West

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Benjamin West

Benjamin West (1738-1820) was one of America's first internationally acclaimed artists. He was born in Philadelphia where he began his painting career but a trip to Italy changed his life. He became an expatriate artist who settled in London where, as a favorite of King George III, he was named the first American to head England's Royal Academy. Despite his affiliation with the King, West served as an important mentor to other American artists who crossed the Atlantic to study the great masters of Europe. Host to several generations of American artists, West's influence was vast. Interested in the European tradition of historical painting, West admired the styles of Italian masters of the Renaissance and Baroque periods.
King Priam portrays mythological drama on an epic scale. This grand canvas illustrates the scene from the Trojan War in which King Priam is told of the fate of his son Hector who was dragged to death behind the chariot of Achilles. An angelic Iris, messenger to Zeus, hovers by the King's side informing him of the events that have passed. She symbolically brings Hector's death with her in the miniature image of his demise rendered at her left. The severity of the event is illustrated in the classical posture of mourning assumed by a warrior to the King's right.

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