The American School
"The American School," an oil on canvas portrait by Matthew Pratt, is an image that depicts a scene in Benjamin West's London Art Studio. West was born in Pennsylvania and resided in London for a majority of his life. Most critics and historians agree that West is the figure standing up on the left overlooking a painting. "The American School" is strikingly detailed with contrasting colors and with each of the men focusing on a different focal point.
The painting portrays the American character as an independent, creative and comfortable personality in a foreign and artistic environment. West appears to be the teacher of the four men, demonstrating the American ideal of nurturing and encouraging students to learn and embrace a talent passionately. While the scene takes place in Benjamin's studio, his area of the painting is the darkest and his face is hidden by a shadow.
While he is the teacher, his students are the center of his attention. The students' attitudes are determined and stern and show their hard work and seriousness toward the task on hand.
Similar to the students, West seems engaged in the activities and inspiration apparent in the studio. However, West is comfortable not being the center of attention as indicated by his hidden face. His role in the painting is as a mentor to the four men. Subsequently, for forty years he was admired by striving, young, American artists seeking his advice and teaching. According to a critic, "His importance in both European and American art history cannot be denied."
To conclude, the painting poses difficult aspects to the viewer. One confusing aspect of the painting is how the men draw no attention to the marble head statue that seems most likely to be the subject of the...