WEST, Benjamin
(b. 1738, Springfield, d. 1820, London)

Portrait of Colonel Guy Johnson

c. 1775
Oil on canvas, 203 x 138 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington

In London, he succeeded in uniting the great tradition of 18th century English portraiture with a reawakened interest in history painting. His particular appeal in the eyes of an English public lay in the fact that he did not use the historical situation to magnify the dignity of the sitter to the point of heroism, and did not stylise the figure of the colonel into a monumental bearer of history.

Colonel Johnson is shown in a relaxed pose, with an Indian cloak draped over his uniform and moccasins on his feet. Behind him, in the half shadow, stands an Indian chief who is smiling down on the seated man and pointing out, with a gesture of his left hand, the peaceful existence of his tribe, visible in the background. The fresh, clear face of the colonel, the Indian attributes and the chief himself all suggest a love of liberty without violence, and a sense of honest and egalitarian cooperation.