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Benjamin West and the Struggle to be Modern

Monday, October 26, 2015 - 6:00pm to 7:00pm
Reception to follow

Loyd Grossman

Benjamin West and the Struggle to be Modern

The Pennsylvania-born Benjamin West was the most famous artist in the English-speaking world at the time of his death in 1820 as well as being acclaimed and honoured in Germany, France, and Italy. The Athenæum’s 19th-century patrons also recognized the importance of West’s work and acquired work by him, as well as a portrait of him by acclaimed artist Washington Allston. Today the Athenæum has a modest print collection of West’s works, including a striking self-portrait (far right) with his extended family.

Although West is most celebrated for his painting, The Death of General Wolfe, West's ability as a portraitist and painter of religious and mythological subjects took him to the heart of the court of George III. His success in life was mirrored by his neglect after death: his critical reputation is only just recovering as exemplified by the Museum of Fine Arts' recent purchase of his massive altarpiece The Stoning of Saint Stephen. West has long puzzled art historians, confused by his conflicting Anglo-American allegiances and infuriated by his lack of formal education in spite of which he showed a keen awareness of the latest Enlightenment thinking. Benjamin West and the Struggle To Be Modern is the first major reappraisal of West's work in a generation and firmly makes the case for him as a pioneer of 'modern' attitudes in art.

Loyd Grossman was born in Boston and lives in London. He read art history at Magdalene College, Cambridge and is Chairman of the Churches Conservation Trust, Deputy Chairman of the Royal Drawing School, a Governor of the British School at Rome and a Warden of the Worshipful Company of Arts Scholars. He was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire and is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. Loyd also plays guitar and has performed at the Glastonbury festival three times.

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