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Images of Benjamin Franklin

May 5–September 16, 1990

Benjamin Franklin has been one of the most frequently portrayed Americans in the history of art. In a letter of 1780, he wrote, "I have at the Request of Friends, sat so much and so often to Painters and Statuaries, that I am perfectly sick of it. I know of nothing so tedious as sitting hours in one fixed position." Opening May 5th at the Philadelphia Museum of Art will be Images of Franklin, a small exhibition drawn from the Museum's collections of portraits of Philadelphia's most famous citizen. The exhibition is presented in connection with the city-wide commemoration this year of the 200th anniversary of Franklin's death in 1790. Included in the exhibition will be Benjamin West's oil sketch of Benjamin Franklin Drawing Electricity from the Sky, a fantasy celebrating Franklin as a man of science. Also on view will be a painting of Franklin made in 1762 by the British artist Mason Chamberlin, a work much admired by the sitter and considered to be one of the most faithful likenesses of Franklin. The popular demand for images of celebrated figures led to a proliferation of engravings and mezzotints reproducing portraits of Franklin. These range widely in approach from conventional representations of Franklin as an elder statesman to unfamiliar likenesses drawn from life and allegorical portraits that deify the subject. The majority of prints to be shown are drawn from the important collection of 150 Franklin portraits amassed by Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and given to the Museum in 1946. Also included will be a group of engraved views of Philadelphia as it appeared in Franklin's day, as well as a selection of Staffordshire porcelain figures of Benjamin Franklin manufactured at the turn of the 19th century. English craftsmen occasionally confused Franklin's identity with such other famous Americans as George Washington; several examples of mistaken identity of this sort will be featured in the exhibition.

Main Building


James Ganz

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