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American Commissioners of the Preliminary Peace Negotiations with Great Britain

Benjamin West American

Not on view

This work, intended to be the first in a series on the American Revolution, commemorates the commission that negotiated the preliminary treaty between America and Britain, signed in Paris on November 30, 1782. West portrayed five Americans: John Jay, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Henry Laurens, and William Temple Franklin (Benjamin Franklin’s grandson). West wanted to paint the participants from life, and all but Benjamin Franklin sat for him. However, the British representative Richard Oswald and his secretary, Caleb Whitefoord, meant to be depicted on the right, never sat for the artist and tradition has it that Oswald was unwilling to do so. John Quincy Adams discussed this painting in his diary: "As I very strongly expressed my regret that this picture should be left unfinished, Mr. West said he thought he could finish it . . . I understood his intention to be to make a present of it to Congress." Instead it remained unfinished, a powerful symbol of the division between Great Britain and its former American colonies.

American Commissioners of the Preliminary Peace Negotiations with Great Britain, Benjamin West (American, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania 1738–1820 London), Oil on canvas

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