Penn's Treaty with the Indians
Commissioned by Thomas Penn, son of Pennsylvania's founder, this painting depicts a legendary meeting between William Penn and members of the Lennie Lenape tribe at Shackamaxon on the Delaware River. Honoring his patron's and his own Quaker heritage, West employed a Neoclassical style to suggest both visual and political harmony. By depicting the three factions that shaped Pennsylvania for most of the eighteenth century - Native Americans, Quakers, and merchants - united in the act of settlement, West created a powerful symbol of peace. Although the scene is allegorical rather than historical, the image has become an icon of American history.
Benjamin West was the first American-born artist to earn acclaim outside his homeland. West was born in Springfield (now Swarthmore), Pennsylvania, and his early artistic promise encouraged Philadelphia's leading citizens to finance his training in Rome. Subsequently, in 1763 West traveled to London and never returned to the Colonies. His acclaim as a painter of historical scenes attracted the attention of King George III. West was appointed official history painter to the king and was a founder and later was elected president of the Royal Academy. Well aware that, as an American, he was a novelty, West used this mystique to his advantage, claiming that he had learned color mixing from Native Americans. He greatly contributed to American art in his role as teacher and advisor to the many early American artists who came to London to study with him.