American Adversaries

West and Copley in a Transatlantic World

Emily Ballew Neff with Kaylin H. Weber

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American artists and innovators Benjamin West (1738–1820) and John Singleton Copley (1738–1815) changed the way history was recorded in the 18th century and became America’s first transatlantic art superstars. Initially friends but eventually bitter rivals, the artists painted contemporary events as they happened, illustrating the transformation of imperial power through diplomacy between British Americans and the Iroquois, and through transatlantic trade, exploration, and the natural history of the West Indies.

Focusing on two iconic works, West’s The Death of General Wolfe (1770) and Copley’s Watson and the Shark (1778), American Adversaries charts the rise of contemporary history painting, and offers a compelling examination of American history and New World exploration. Featuring more than two hundred color reproductions of paintings, works on paper, and objects that informed the artists, this handsome volume also includes essays that shed new light on, among other subjects, West and Copley within the context of the Royal Academy and the use of Western and Native American objects in cultural diplomacy.

Emily Ballew Neff is curator of American painting and sculpture, and Kaylin H. Weber is assistant curator of American painting and sculpture, both at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.


The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston


American Adversaries: West and Copley in a Translatlantic World explores the way in which two colonial painters in particular, John Singleton Copley and Benjamin West, put American art on a world stage. If this comes as a surprise to people who think American art languished in provincial isolation until the mid-twentieth century when abstract expressionism burst on the scene, the exhibition’s curator and her catalogue. . . will enlighten them.”—Magazine Antiques
“A page-turner masquerading as a nearly five-pound, lap-sized book, “American Adversaries” explores how the two leading American painters of the pre-Revolutionary War era chose to go to England when the colonies opted for independence and how their decisions impacted their lives and their work. As with the best books about art history, it is as much about history and how artists fit into it and contributed to it as it is about art.”—Tyler Green, Modern Art Notes
ISBN: 9780300196467
Publication Date: October 22, 2013
Publishing Partner: Distributed for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
272 pages, 9 3/4 x 12 3/4
238 color illus.
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