Penn’s Treaty with the Indians

by Benjamin West

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Penn's Treaty with the Indians by Benjamin West at PAFA

Credit: Courtesy of PAFA

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Commissioned by Thomas Penn, son of Pennsylvania’s founder, this painting depicts a legendary meeting between William Penn and members of the Lenni Lanape tribe at Shackamaxon on the Delaware River.  Honoring his patron’s and his own Quaker heritage, West employed a Neo-classical style to convey visual and political harmony.  By depicting the three factions that shaped Pennsylvania for most of the eighteenth century—Indians, Quakers, and merchants—united in the act of settlement, West invented a powerful image of peace.  Although the scene is allegorical rather than historical, the image has become an icon of American history, influencing generations of artists from Edward Hicks to Red Grooms.