The studio and collection of the 'American Raphael': Benjamin West, P.R.A. (1738-1820)

Weber, Kaylin Haverstock (2013) The studio and collection of the 'American Raphael': Benjamin West, P.R.A. (1738-1820). PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Abstract

When the history painter Benjamin West (1738-1820) died in March 1820, he left behind a remarkable monument to his life and work in his residence at 14 Newman Street, in London’s fashionable West End. Here, he had created an elaborate ‘palace’ of art, dedicated to history painting and to himself – his artistic genius, his artistic heroes, and his unique transatlantic identity. This impressive establishment was nearly fifty years in the making and part of an elaborate strategy to develop an artistic reputation as the pre-eminent history painter of his generation. While his studio has been considered by scholars as a place of pilgrimage for dozens of American students, its physicality and contents have never been thoroughly explored. Using a variety of evidence, including bank records, contemporary descriptions, and visual material, this thesis reconstructs much of this important space and collection to reveal how it was shaped and utilised by West. It combines a documentation of the spaces and objects with an analysis of their use and meaning in terms of the painter’s engagement with art theory, pedagogy, practice, collecting, display, and legacy. West, who was History Painter to George III, inhabited 14 Newman Street from 1774 to 1820, a period of dramatic expansion and cultural ambition in the London art world. Indeed, this thesis argues that 14 Newman Street and its impressive contents were more than just a history painter’s ‘palace’ of art but a place symbolic of the ideals and ambitions of British art. Following an introduction that more fully defines the aims and scope of this thesis, four chapters explore the significance of West’s house, his collections, and their display in this context. Chapter one provides an overview of his home and studio, and considers how it was designed with West’s various audiences in mind. The scope and character of his impressive collection is examined in the second chapter with a particular focus on a selection of Old and New World objects that represent particular areas of strength within the corpus of the collection. Chapter three examines the collection as a public and private artistic resource for West and his students as well as a statement of his commitment to the grand tradition. In chapter four, West’s self-promotion and exhibition strategies at Newman Street are addressed, highlighted by his exhibition of The Death of Lord Nelson in 1806. Developed in the dynamic context of the establishment of the Royal Academy, the proliferation of public exhibitions, and ongoing debates about national art, West’s collection and studio at 14 Newman Street exemplified the aspirations of British art.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Studio, artist-collector, history painting, history of collecting
Subjects: N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Culture and Creative Arts > History of Art
Supervisor's Name: Yarrington, Dr. Alison and Bonehill, Dr. John and Hancock, Mrs. Liz
Date of Award: 2013
Depositing User: Kaylin Haverstock Weber
Unique ID: glathesis:2013-4307
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 06 Jun 2013 15:32
Last Modified: 21 Jun 2016 11:18
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/4307

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