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The Life, Studies, and Works of Benjamin West, Esq., by John Galt, in extra-illustrated form


Held at: Historical Society of Pennsylvania [Contact Us]1300 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19107

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

John Galt was born to Captain John Galt and Jean Tilloch Galt in May 1779 in Irvine, Ayrshire, Scotland. As a child, Galt enjoyed reading books and developed a talent for writing. He received a business-oriented education and worked for a time in Scotland. In 1804 he moved to London, England, to further pursue business opportunities. He eventually entered into a series of partnerships, including one with his brother Thomas, but none were successful. He turned to writing articles for the Greenock Advertiser and the Scots Magazine as a source of income. After a bout with illness in 1809, Galt traveled throughout the Mediterranean where he met and traveled with poet George Gordon (Lord) Byron. Galt returned to London in 1811 and sought to become a published author. Among his earliest works were Life and Administration of Cardinal Wolsey (1812), Voyages and Travels (1812), which was based on his time in the Mediterranean, and Letters from Levant (1813).

There are few details as to how Galt became interested in American artist and president of London's Royal Academy of Art Benjamin West (1738-1820), but Galt published the first part of a biography of West in 1816. Part one of The Life, Studies, and Works of Benjamin West, Esq. covers West's life in America starting with his birth in 1738 up to the early 1760s, when West traveled to Italy to study art. In 1820, Galt offered a second volume on West that began with his move to London, England, in 1763 and ended with his death in 1820. Galt's work was the first biography of Benjamin West. In the author's note in the second volume, Galt recalled that West himself read over (or was read) the contents of the first volume to check for accuracy. Due to illness, West was unable to read over the second volume.

Galt formed a successful career as a writer, publishing over thirty works before his death in 1839. He also revived his business skills in the mid-1820s when he was named one of the commissioners of the Canada Company, which planned to develop and re-sell federal lands in southern Ontario (between the Great Lakes Huron and Ontario). Galt died in Scotland in 1839.

This extra-illustrated version of John Galt's The Life, Studies, and Works of Benjamin West, Esq., is housed in three boxes and nine flat files. The papers in boxes 1-3 were formerly in bound volumes numbered 1 through 6. A seventh volume consisted solely of large-scale engravings and mezzotints of West's art. Amid the individual pages from Galt's work are numerous original manuscripts, prints, engravings, and examples of West's work. While documents span from the 1680s to the 1830s, most of them date from the 1790s to 1820, when West served as the president of the Royal Academy of Art in London, England. Since the collection was originally housed in seven large bound volumes, each item retains old volume and page numbers, though the collection has been re-housed into boxes and folders. An inventory of original drawings by and large-scale original engravings of West's work has been provided in the arrangement note following this section.

The contents of the "illustrated" portions of this collection vary widely. Save for original letters to and from West, most of the materials relate generally to history and art and have little do with West. There are images (usually engravings, mezzotints, or other prints) of various Renaissance and contemporary artists, Italian and English landscapes and landmarks, European kings and rulers, and other historical figures such as Isaac Newton, William Shakespeare, and Plutarch. Among the original documents that help illustrate the biography of West are deeds, such as a 1682 indenture of Jacob Fullor (Box 3, Folder 1); receipts, letters, and miscellaneous lists, including a four-page list from 1786 "of workmen employed at the Great Falls for the Potomac Company---the last page is signed by George Washington (Box 1, Folder 1).

However, the highlights of the collection are West's letters, his original sketches, and large-scale engravings that were made from several of his paintings. While the letters, both drafts and final copies, are scattered between pages from Galt's work and various images, together they present a formidable picture of West's life and work in England from the 1790s until his death in 1820. Among West's myriad of correspondents were American artist Thomas Sully; German painter Antonio Raphael Mengs; Lord Grantham (Thomas Robinson, the second Baron Grantham); Joseph Reynolds, with whom he founded the Royal Academy; and Thomas Copley, a Jesuit missionary. There are also several letters West wrote to the Council of the Royal Academy, a letter from the managers of the Pennsylvania Hospital thanking West in advance for his painting "Our Saviour Healing the Sick in the Temple" (Box 2, Folder 7); and an unsigned proposal for West do a painting on the death of Lord Nelson (Box 2, Folder 7). Among West's other documents are scattered notes and lists of his paintings, receipts for exhibition money, and occasional notes on the proceedings of the Royal Academy.

This collection also contains sixteen original sketches and drawings by West. Of them, two are in Box 1 (an untitled sketch and a wash entitled "David"), one is in Box 2 (a pen and wash sketch entitled "The Tragic Muse"), and the remainder are in Box 3. These works appear to be miscellaneous drawings, but a few are identified as painting studies. They are done in pencil, ink, wash, or a combination of these media, and most are mounted onto heavy card stock. Only a few are dated and have titles, but most are either signed or initialed by West.

Nine oversized flat files that mostly contain large-scale engravings done after many of West's painting round out this collection. Impressive works of their own, most of these engravings were done in the 1780s and 1790s by Valentine Green or Francesco Bartolozzi, both of whom worked as Royal engravers (Flat files 2-8). Additionally, there are several large portraits of Benjamin West (Flat file 1). The ninth flat file contains photographic reproductions of a portrait of Benjamin West and his portraits of George III and Queen Charlotte. An inventory of the engravings along with West’s original works in Flat files 1-8 is in the arrangement note below.

Box 1, folder 2

Untitled sketch of man holding scrolls before other men, undated.

Box 1, folder 4

David, wash and ink, undated.

Box 2, folder 4

A Tragic Muse, pen and wash, 1776.

Box 3, folder 1

Lot, pen and pencil, undated.

Hope, pen and wash, undated.

Untitled sketch, undated.

Box 3, folder 2

A Nest of Cupids, pencil, undated.

Pharoah's Daughter with the Child Moses, pen and wash, undated.

Box 3, folder 3

Untitled sketch, pen, undated.

The Rape of Prosephine, ink and wash, undated.

The Captive - a study for the picture ("Barabus" written on front in pencil), pencil and wash, undated.

Box 3, folder 4

A Sketch for the Demoniae - Introduced in the Picture of Christ Healing the Sick, which Mr. West presented to the Hospital at Philadelphia, ink and wash, 1815.

The Resurrection - a study for the picture, which was painted for the Church at Barbados, charcoal and wash(?), undated.

Box 3, folder 5

Untitled sketch, pencil, undated.

Untitled drawing, pen and wash, undated.

Box 3, folder 6

Patus and Arria, pen and wash, undated.

Flat file 1

Benjamin West, lithograph?, G. Watson.

Engraving by J. Fitler after Benjamin Westby G. H. Henlow. Published 1817.

Benjamin West, engraving. Published 1 April 1844.

Engraving by Charles Rolls after Benjamin Westby Sir Thomas Lawrence. Published 1842.

The Angel at the Tomb, Benjamin West, undated. (This is an original work.)

Engraving by C. Bestland after The Royal Academicians in General Assemblyby Singleton. Published 1 May 1802.

Key to The Royal Academicians in General Assembly

Flat file 2

Mezzotint by Valentine Green after Christ Blessing Little Children by West. Published 1782.

Mezzotint by Valentine Green after The Raising of Lazarus by West. Published 1780.

Mezzotint by Valentine Green after The Departure of Regulus from Rome by West. Published 1771.

Mezzotint by Richard Earlom after Moses Receiving the Laws by West. Published 1814.

Mezzotint by Valentine Green after The Oath of Hannibal by West. Published 1773.

Mezzotint by Valentine Green after Marc Antony Showing the Robe and the Will of Julius Caesar to the People of Rome by West. Published 1781.

Flat file 3

Mezzotint by Valentine Green after Devout Men Taking the Body of St. Stephen by West. Published 1776.

Engraving of The Death of Epaminondas.

Mezzotint by Valentine Green after Antiochus and Stratonice by West. Published 1776.

Mezzotint by Valentine Green after Daniel Interpreting to Belshazzer the Writing on the Wall by West. Published 1777.

Mezzotint by Richard Earlom after Agrippina Landing at Brundisium with the Ashes of Germanicus by West. Published 1776.

Mezzotint by Valentine Green after Queen Charlotte with Charlotte, Princess Royal by West. Published 1778.

Flat file 4

Engraving by William Wollett after Death of General Wolfe by West. Published 1776.

Engraving by W. Sharp after Samuel More by West. Published 1798.

Engraving by John Hall after Venus Relating to Adonis the Story of Hippomenes and Atalanta by West. Published 1769.

Mezzotint by Valentine Green after George Prince of Wales with Prince Frederick by West. Published 1779.

Engraving by Charles Heather after Christ Healing the Sick by West. Published 1822.

Flat file 5

Colored engraving after Alexander III of Scotland Saved from a Stag by Colin Fitzgerald (The Death of the Stag) by West. Undated.

Engraving by Francesco Bartolozzi after His Royal Highness Prince William Henry by West. Published 1782.

Mezzotint by W. Dickinson after Richard, Lord Grosvenor, later first Earl Grosvenor by West. Undated.

Mezzotint by Thomas Watson after Alderman John Sawbridge by West. Published 1772.

Engraving by Francesco Bartolozzi after Genius Calling Forth Arts and Sciences by West. Published 1789.

Flat file 6

Mezzotint by Valentine Green after Fidelia and Speranza by West. Published 1778.

Engraving by John Hall after William Penn’s Treaty with the Indians by West. Published 1775.

Engraving by John Hall after Oliver Cromwell Dissolving the Long Parliament by West. Published 1786.

Engravings by William Sharp after General Monk Receiving Charles II on the Beach at Dover by West. Published 1789. (2 copies - one is titled "Restoration")

Flat file 7

Engraving by James Heath after The Death of Lord Nelson by West. Published 1811.

Key to The Death of Lord Nelson

Engraving by John Hall after Battle of the Boyne by West. Published 1781.

Stipple engraving by Charles Wilson after Epponina by West. Published 1794.

Mezzotint by Richard Earlom after Angelico and Medoro by West. Published 1768.

Flat file 8

Engraving by William Wollett after The Battle at La Hogue by West. Published 1781.

Engraving by Francesco Bartolozzi after St. Paul Shaking the Viper from His Hand after the Shipwreck by West. Published 1791.

Mezzotint by Valentine Green after The Golden Age by West. Published 1777.

Mezzotint by Valentine Green after Jacob Blesseth Joseph's Two Sons by West. Published 1778.

Flat file 9 -- Photographic reproductions

Photograph of Benjamin West portrait.

Photograph of "Queen Charlotte" (circa 1779) painting by Benjamin West.

Photograph of "George III" (circa 1779) painting by Benjamin West.

"Galt, John." The Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online. (accessed 17 September 2010). von Erffa, Helmut, and Allen Staley. The Paintings of Benjamin West. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986. (call number Gw 73F V946) "The West Collection of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania." The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 35, no. 2: 152-155.

Purchased, 1910.

Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid prepared by Cary Majewicz
Finding Aid Date
, 2010
Processing made possible by generous donations from Henry Lafayette Collins III and Charles E. Mather III.
Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Collection Inventory

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