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Benjamin West
Helen Brought to Paris
1776
oil
56 1/2 x 75 3/8 in.
Smithsonian American Art Museum



Venus floats in on a cloud and gently urges Helen of Troy—the “face that launched a thousand ships”—toward an expectant Paris, who sits entranced by her beauty. The moment is full of drama and tension. In Greek mythology Helen's deliverance to Paris was the spark that ignited the Trojan War. Cupid's shadowed eyes seem to foretell the dark events to come. The choice of this incident from classical literature may also allude to the Revolutionary War that erupted in 1776, the year West completed this painting. West was a close personal friend of King George III and served as his historical painter, yet remained a partisan to the revolutionaries' cause.