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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

This canvas began as an exact replica of West’s self-portrait, now in Baltimore, but was radically changed in the course of painting. The face – all that remains visible of the first stage of work – is copied exactly from the original. The painter efficiently reproduced the result, not the means. The rest shows West striving for spontaneity and panache, almost improvising as he paints. The touch is quick and free, the forms suggested rather than fully described; some parts have been left unresolved. West had originally been inspired by a self-portrait by Rubens, and here returns to his source, emulating the great 17th-century painter’s verve. Benjamin West, Self-portrait, c. 1776, oil on canvas. Baltimore Museum of Art, Gift of Dr. Morton K. Blaustein, Barbara B. Hirschorn & Elizabeth B. Roswell, in Memory of Jacob & Hilda K. Blaustein

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