The Winterthur Library

 The Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera

Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum, Winterthur, DE  19735

302-888-4600 or 800-448-3883





Creator:          Benjamin West                                    

Title:               Papers

Dates:             1762-1829

Call No.:         Col. 394          

Acc. No.:         [various – see detailed description]

Quantity:        1 box

Location:        9 C 2






Benjamin West (1738-1820) was particularly noted for his paintings of historical events and portraits. Born near Springfield, Pennsylvania (the house in which he was born is now located on the Swarthmore College campus), West studied with William Williams upon his arrival in Philadelphia in the late 1740s.  In either 1759 or 1760, West traveled to Italy to study art.  His works were so well received abroad that he decided to remain in Europe, opening a studio in London as a portrait painter.  His 1770 work, “Death of Wolfe,” gained the attention of the British royalty and West was soon commissioned by King George to paint several more heroic death scenes. His great knowledge of the history of art and literature is apparent in his work, particularly in West’s French romantic style painting, “Death on a Pale Horse,” 1802. 


West was a charter member of the Royal Academy, founded in 1768.  He became its second president.  West decided to keep his permanent residence in London, remaining there until his death in 1820.  After the American Revolutionary War, many young American artists went to Europe to study, and quite a few well-known artists temporarily moved to London to study with West.  Among them were Charles Willson Peale, Rembrandt Peale, Gilbert Stuart, John Trumbull, and Thomas Sully.





 This collection contains various papers and letters relating to painter Benjamin West.  Most notable are a catalog (not dated) written in his own hand of works in West’s private collection, a published catalog raisonné of West’s works auctioned off in 1829 (photostat only), and a published description and critical assessment of his painting, “Christ Healing the Sick in the Temple.”  West’s sketchbooks are available on microfilm.  There are several documents signed by West, including a ticket to a lecture and a bank check.  Most of the letters are about paintings, his or others.  There is also a facsimile of a letter from West to Charles Willson Peale.





Items are in chronological order.





The materials are in English and Italian.





Collection is open to the public.  Copyright restrictions may apply.





Purchases and gifts from various sources.






                        West, Benjamin, 1738-1820 - Catalogues raisonnés.




            Painting, American - European influences.

            Painting, British.

            History in art.

            Art auctions - Catalogs.

            Artists - Correspondence.

            Painting - Catalogs.

            Art criticism.


Additional author:

            Robinson, John, d. ca.1829.





Location: 9 C 2



72x58                          Letter from Benjamin West, Florence, May 11, 1762, to Joseph Shippen, Jr., Philadelphia.  Pleased to hear that his copies of St. Cecilia and the Sybil are to grace the governor’s house, but asks that others not copy them.  Discusses making copies of other paintings.  Describes operations on his ankle.

                                    (trex 3799)


Ph 1281                       facsimile of a letter from Benjamin West, London, June 15, 1783, to Charles Willson Peale, extending congratulations on the recent peace and requesting a portrait of George Washington.  Mentions Mr. Vaune’s [i.e. Vaughn or Vaughan?] plan to engrave portraits of distinguished Americans. 

                                    In green folder labeled “A Gift to its Members from the Archives of American Art” (original letter is in its collection).

                                    (trex 5050)


68x48.1                       Note to Alderman Boydell, Cheapside, from Benjamin West, London, June 10, 1788, order to pay Alex. Alexander of Hampstead 93 pounds, 3 shillings.

                                    Endorsed on back: Al. Alexander, Thos. Clasket.

                                    (trex 2889)


71x137                        Letter from Benjamin West.  London, February 5, 1801, to Sir John Sinclare.  Requests Sir John to call “to ajust [sic] what may be wanting to your whole length portrait.”  Also requests payment for work.

                                    (trex 3626)


76x62                          Letter from Benjamin West, London, August 10, 1816, to Mr. Raule [or Rawle].  Concerns West’s student, Mr. Robinson’s return to the U.S. (Robinson was a painter of miniatures); mentions land West owned along the West Branch of the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania.

                                    (trex 6873)


76x425                        Letter from Benjamin West, London, July 2, 1817, to Mr. Marsh et al.   Asks for an extension of the debt owed to their house; his painting depicting the opening of the seven seals from Revelations is taking much longer than he thought it would and therefore he does not have the money he owes.

                                    (trex 7125)


77x347.1-.2                 Letter from Antonio Canova, Rome, May 20, 1818, to Benjamin West, London. In Italian, with typed translation.  The Academy of St. Luca asked for a self portrait, in return will make him an honorary member of the Academy.

                                    (trex 7456)


66x142                        Letter from Benjamin West, London, June 18, 1818, to Mr. Gerard, [Paris].  Introduces a Miss Goodrich who wishes to see Mr. Gerard’s collection of paintings while she is in Paris.  Mentions Gerard’s picture of Henry IV.

                                    Letter is mounted on paper.

                                    (trex 2559)


67x114                        Customs certificate with seal.  Signed by Benjamin West, PRA [President of the Royal Academy], London, October 9, 1818.  Declares that drawings and sketches, etc. in two packages belong to the Hugh Irwin Exhibition at the Royal Academy and are for exhibit only, not for sale.  Also signed by Richard Eales, Martin Archer Shee, and Joan Soane.

                                    (trex 2748)           


67x97                          Robinson, John. A Description of and Critical Remarks on the Picture of Christ Healing the Sick in the Temple, Painted by Benjamin West, Esq. Philadelphia: S. W. Conrad, for the Pennsylvania Hospital, 1818.  (24 pages)

                                    Analyzes each figure in the painting; discusses technical aspects of light and shading, coloring, perspective.  Short hand notes throughout. Includes drawing of the painting by Thomas Sully with a guide to name figures.  Signature on blank page in the front reads Jos. W. Ingreham.  Notes in code are scattered throughout the pamphlet.

                                    John Robinson was a miniature and portrait painter in Philadelphia, and is probably the Mr. Robinson referred to in acc. 76x62.

                                    An ad on the back cover lists other works for sale by S.W. Conrad.

                                    (trex 2729)


72x211                        Ticket to admit Edward Jones to a lecture.  London, February 18, 1819.  Signed by Benjamin West.  On card with name and emblem of Royal Academy, London.

                                    (trex 3856)


Ph 1075                       Photostat of the third edition of “A Catalogue Raisonné of the Unequalled Collections of …” pictures of Benjamin West.  Items were auctioned off by George Robins, London, May 1829. 

                                    This copy includes hand written notes of who bought each painting, and the price paid for it.  Many of the titles indicate religious or Greco-Roman themes, as well as historical events and landscapes.

                                    (trex 4857)


72x303                        “A catalogue of pictures painted by Benjamin West for his own collection.”  In West’s hand.  Lists prices (in pounds) as well.  Most of the titles indicate Biblical, mythological, or historical subjects.  No date.

                                    (trex 3929)


Mic. 1573                    Sketch books owned by Benjamin West. 

                                    Contains drawings of people and some landscapes with animals. (See cataloging entry for more information.  Originals in Historical Society of Pennsylvania.)