They say as we age we start to look more alike, still I have my doubts about the claim that a portrait offered on ebay is a self-portrait of Benjamin West. How many other old men in 19th Century portraits might also be mistaken for this good friend of the King of England?
Because photography did not yet exist and portraits were rarely signed, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to identify sitters and painters. Still I wonder what this quotidian gentleman, likely an American (living in America), might think of being mistaken for a painter of generals and kings?
I also don’t think you need to be an expert on early American or British portraiture to come to this conclusion. The seller shows a number of photos of Benjamin West set against the portrait of elderly gentleman offered. In all of them, except the later one with hat, West is shown with perfect hair. More, the figure in the portrait for sale shows a simple black coat, tie and white shirt that appear as if the sitter walked in off the farm, street or pulpit. Although he was born a Pennsylvania Quaker, the known portraits show West in the finest London outfits, as a historical painter to George III and president of the Royal Academy would. Nor would West fail to flatter the most important sitter (himself) regardless of age or actual appearance as he always did throughout the career.
West died on March 11, 1820, in London. Perhaps had he lived the life of a Quaker in Pennsylvania, this may be an old-age self portrait. Otherwise, it’s an interesting painting, but not one likely to depict or to have been painted by Benjamin West.
Finally, it would seem from a quick search of auction records that any portrait by West is worth in the area of $10,000, while other works edge toward $100,000 or more. If it is a firm conclusion, why should it be priced at only $2,500?
The item number is 370232529268.