Benjamin West, 'Dr Richard Price'

Benjamin West was a powerfully expressive history painter born in Springfield, Pennsylvania in 1738. West from a young age had great self-belief and felt he was predestined for fame. He began as a self-taught portrait painter in Pennsylvania but was soon commissioned to depict historical scenes. With the assistance of the Anglican Minister Revd. William Smith he travelled Italy where he was well received as a protégé and which resulted in him travelling to London and becoming historical painter to King George III in 1772. In London he became known as the ‘American Raphael’. He became best known for his history paintings of the neo-classical tradition. In 1792 he became second president of the Royal Academy after he had played an instrumental role in obtaining patronage for the Academy. His most famous work ‘The Death of General Wolfe’ from 1770 was ground-breaking as it was a history painting which also incorporated elements of Romanticism and Realism. Through this work he successfully managed to revive an interest in the genre which came to be known as modern history painting. He was later commissioned to create works for Windsor Castle and for St. George’s Chapel which led to further commissions within the religious community. He became known as the premier painter of religious subjects in England.

It is therefore plain to see why West was chosen to paint this portrait of Dr. Richard Price. Dr Richard Price was a great Welsh moral philosopher, preacher and mathematician. He was also a nonconformist who had a deep interest in politics. He was born in Llangeinor, Glamorgan, South Wales but worked and lived most of his life in London. Dr. Richard Price is shown in his study, reading a letter dated 1784 from Benjamin Frankin, who was a close friend of Price for many years. Price wrote in his short-hand journal of his sitting for this portrait and this journal is now held in the National Library of Wales’ collections. (NLW MS 20721A). This portrait is the only official image of this highly important moral philosopher although another two other versions do exist.