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Medal with a head of Benjamin West PRA



Inscription: Obverse: BENJAMIN WEST PRESIDENT OF THE ROYAL ACADEMY MDCCCXV around the portrait bust

Reverse: The President requests John Soane Esq. R.A. / Professor of Architecture / will honour him by accepting this medal as a token of respect.

Museum number: SDR21.18

Curatorial note

This medal was presented to Soane by the painter Benjamin West (1738-1820), second President of the Royal Academy and Historical Painter to King George III, in 1815.

In 1800 the American painter Benjamin West was approached by the Pennsylvania Hospital, the first hospital in America, who wished to commission an appropriate work from him. In 1811 he completed the work, Christ Healing the Sick, and exhibited it in London where it proved so popular that West was urged by officials of the British Institution to sell it as the first modern work to be hung in a proposed new National Gallery. It sold for 3000 guineas, the largest sum ever paid for a modern work.

West was so flattered by the sale that he commissioned a medal to be struck, designed by George Mills. He presented it to each of the subscribers to the purchase of Christ Healing the Sick. The medal features a portrait of West with the legend “BENJAMIN WEST PRESIDENT OF THE ROYAL ACADEMY MDCCCXV.” The reverse side of the subscribers medal named the 40 subscribers with the legend “RESPECTFULLY TO PERPETUATE THE NAMES OF THOSE WHO IN MDCCCXI SUBSCRIBED TO PURCHASE THE PICTURE OF CHRIST IN THE TEMPLE FOR THE GALLERY OF THE BRITISH INSTITUTION”. The name of the subscriber for whom each individual medal was made appeared in the centre of the reverse within a laurel wreath. This example is a unique striking of the medal for Soane, with a personalised inscription. Presumably he was not a subscriber but received a copy, as the inscription records, as a token of respect because of his association with West at the R.A.

West painted a second version of the painting for the hospital in Philadelphia (completed in 1815) which was delivered in 1817 and was hung in a special 'Picture House' designed for it. Today it is part of the Pennsylvania Hospital Collection at the Penn Art Collection, the University of Pennsylvania. It seems that the original version acquired for the new National Gallery in London by the BI was eventually passed to the Tate but was destroyed by flooding in 1928.

If you have any further information about this object, please contact us: worksofart@soane.org.uk