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Self-portraitEnlarge image

Self-portrait, c. 1776

Benjamin West
American, British, 1738 - 1820
oil on canvas
78.7 x 67.9 cm
Purchased 2012 with funds donated by the Audain Foundation, Vancouver
National Gallery of Canada (no. 45519)
Photo © NGC

The American-born artist Benjamin West is well known for The Death of General Wolfe, a gift of the 2nd Duke of Westminster to the people of Canada, and held in the national collection since 1921. In 2012, the Gallery acquired this self-portrait, a recent discovery, painted just a few years after The Death of General Wolfe. West made numerous self-portraits, the best known of which is now in the Baltimore Museum of Art. This one appears to be a variant of the Baltimore painting, possibly created in the same year. Replicas were commonly made as gifts at the time. Infrared examination shows that the underpainting is a close replica of the Baltimore portrait, whereas the top layer presents a more original variant. West is shown in a three-quarters pose, seated in a red chair and holding an easel. Although the nature of his work is not visible, both the underpainting and the Baltimore portrait depict West with his drawing for The Death of General Wolfe. The artist's face is precisely rendered with sharply defined areas of light and shadow, while the surrounding features are only roughly sketched.

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