The State Museum of Pennsylvania Image of Penn's Treaty
An Image of Peace: The William Penn Treaty

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Creating an Image of Peace
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William Penn's Treaty with the Indians when he founded the Province of Pennsylvania in North America, 1771

Benjamin West
William Penn's Treaty with the Indians when he founded the Province of Pennsylvania in North America, 1771
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia.

In 1771 Thomas Penn wanted a painting of his father meeting with the Native Americans. He commissioned Pennsylvania-born artist Benjamin West to capture the dramatic encounter on canvas. When finished, William Penn's Treaty with the Indians reinforced the legends of friendship and peace established between cultures.

Thomas Penn inherited a share of Pennsylvania, along with his brothers John and Richard, at the death of his father in 1718. Much to the displeasure of the many Quakers in Pennsylvania's government, Thomas left the Society of Friends for the Church of England. He abandoned his father's generous attitudes, attempting to collect money owed the Penn family by settlers. Thomas fought the Assembly's efforts to tax his land in the colony. He had difficulty keeping settlers off Indian lands in the west. Some Pennsylvanians, including Benjamin Franklin, tried to have Thomas removed as Proprietor.

Benjamin West, 1842

Charles Rolls
Benjamin West, 1842
After painting by Sir Thomas Lawerence
Engraving, 24 1/2 x 15 1/2
The State Museum of Pennsylvania
05.233

Benjamin West grew up in the 1740's at Swathmore, Pennsylvania. West studied art in Philadelphia, then at seventeen moved to Lancaster to paint portraits. Returning to Philadelphia for more training, West met a sponsor who sent him to Italy to study classical art. West settled in London in 1763 where he began to create pictures of historic events on a grand scale. King George III appointed West historical painter to the court in 1772. Twenty years later he became president of the prestigious Royal Academy of Arts. Benjamin West, the first American artist to receive international recognition, died in 1820 at age eighty-two.

Benjamin West had experience in painting Native Americans. In four other paintings and two book illustrations West portrayed Indians - sometimes as friends, sometimes as enemies. Working in England did not allow West to use live Native Americans as models, so he turned to his sketches of Italian sculptures. In several cases, the pose of the Native Americans in Penn's Treaty appears only slightly altered from  earlier West paintings and the original classical sculpture.