A Quaker and Painter of Kings: A Benjamin West on Ebay?

Look and look again.
Look and look again.

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.

1770 Self Portrait by Benjamin West
1770 Self Portrait by Benjamin West

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.

About Art After X

With the death of President Kennedy in 1963, America changed. As hard as it is to minimize that sentiment, the effect of Dallas was even greater. The same year saw the merging of the Dallas Museum for Contemporary Arts, which had been central to the art scene, and the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. Douglas MacAgy, then the director of DMCA, not only opposed the merger, but also declined to directorship of the combined museum. The regionalist movement which had been strong for decades, was giving way to more of an interest in what was going on nationally, and internationally. Like it or not, Dallas was on the national stage. When the Kennedy’s arrived in Fort Worth, local collectors had decorated a hotel room with internationally-renowned works. While the president and his wife learned a great deal about the ability of Texans to collect major art, there was little they could glean about the local scene in this era-defining city. With this in mind, we have begun a project to look not back at the art scene in Dallas, but foreword from 1963. We are interviewing gallery owners, curators and others involved in the art scene then, but this will be a story told mostly through interviews with artists active in the city from that point into the 1980s. The result will be a book with a video component. We hope you will join us in our journey. The hashtag for the project is #artafterx and the url artafterx.com will point to the latest updates on this weblog.

3 comments

I cannot see any similarity between this painting and other self portrait of West. As the president of RA, at least it is confident to say West mastered the likeness. And in no way that the pro-flattering painter would make himself old and shaky. The seller, if really want to authenticate the painting, should go for options from PAFA or NGA

Reply from the seller:

Thank you for your article. Please keep in mind it is very difficult to judge art with internet images. We stand by our research and at auction you always start at a very low price to get people to bid. Thanks again for your interest!

Leave a Reply

*