Work of Art: Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
Joseph-Siffred Duplessis
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
circa 1779
Oil on canvas
27 1/2 x 21 1/2 in. (69.8 x 54.6 cm)
Gift of the North Carolina Citizens Association

Two months after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin was dispatched to the French Court to seek assistance for the American struggle against the British. He became the darling of French society, who saw him as personifying the natural nobility and enlightenment of the New World. (Franklin, of course, recognized the political benefit of cultivating this image.) His company and counsel were eagerly sought by scientists, philosophers, diplomats, and society hostesses. Very soon his likeness appeared everywhere, in paintings and sculptures, even on snuffboxes and chamber pots.

The most popular portrait was painted by Duplessis, the foremost painter of the French upper-middle class. The artist represents Franklin as his French admirers saw him, wise and resolute, and wholly unaffected by fashion: no powdered wig or embroidered waistcoat. The portrait was so admired that the artist received numerous commissions for replicas, of which this is one.

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