West was the first American artist to gain an international reputation, above all for his dramatic history painting. He was born in Pennsylvania and received no formal artistic training. The four years he spent in Italy (1759-63) confirmed his interest in depicting heroic subjects from ancient and modern history. He moved to London and established himself first as a portrait painter. He was a founder member of the Royal Academy and succeeded Sir Joshua Reynolds as its President. The triumphal success of his painting 'The Death of General Wolfe' (1771) led to his appointment as history painter to King George III.