Pardon our dust while we update this corner of the website.


Bust of Benjamin Franklin (1706 - 1790)

Jean-Antoine Houdon, French (active Paris), 1741 - 1828

Geography:
Made in Paris, France, Europe

Date:
1779

Medium:
Marble

Dimensions:
21 × 13 1/2 × 10 inches (53.3 × 34.3 × 25.4 cm)

Curatorial Department:
European Decorative Arts and Sculpture

* Gallery 384, European Art 1500-1850, third floor

Accession Number:
1996-162-1

Credit Line:
125th Anniversary Acquisition. Purchased with a generous grant from The Barra Foundation, Inc., matched by contributions from the Henry P. McIlhenny Fund in memory of Frances P. McIlhenny, the Walter E. Stait Fund, the Fiske Kimball Fund, and with funds contributed by Mr. and Mrs. Jack M. Friedland, Hannah L. and J. Welles Henderson, Mr. and Mrs. E. Newbold Smith, Mr. and Mrs. Mark E. Rubenstein, Mr. and Mrs. John J. F. Sherrerd, The Women's Committee of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Marguerite and Gerry Lenfest, Leslie A. Miller and Richard B. Worley, Mr. and Mrs. John A. Nyheim, Mr. and Mrs. Robert A. Fox, Stephanie S. Eglin, an anonymous donor, Mr. and Mrs. William T. Vogt, and with contributions from individual donors to the Fund for Franklin, 1996

Social Tags

bust [x]   sculpture [x]  


[Add Your Own Tags]

Label:
While minister from the American colonies to France from 1776 to 1785, Benjamin Franklin was a popular celebrity. The rage for his likeness resulted in images ranging from marble busts and paintings to prints and miniatures.

This bust was created by Jean-Antoine Houdon, the leading portrait sculptor of the eighteenth century. It is the most powerful and fully realized version of the best-known portrait of Franklin. Houdon's accomplishment is the more remarkable in that Franklin did not sit for the sculptor--the men did not meet formally until 1783. Presumably Houdon drew upon his experience of seeing Franklin at events such as meetings of the Masonic lodge to which they both belonged.

Houdon exhibited a terracotta version of the bust in the French Royal Academy Salon exhibition of 1779. Like other sculptors, Houdon sent works to the Salon to attract orders for reproductions in various materials. Using molds, Houdon could produce copies in plaster and terracotta to which he added distinctive touches. A German prince and Thomas Jefferson purchased plaster versions, and Franklin was given four by Houdon.

There are only two examples of Houdon's Franklin bust in the desirable and costly material of marble. The bust in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, dated 1778, remained in the sculptor's possession until 1785. The Philadelphia Museum of Art's bust, dated 1779, is in every way the more carefully carved portrait. It was commissioned by an unknown person who had most likely seen the terracotta in the Salon or in Houdon's studio. The differences between the two marble busts may be due to the sculptor's exceptional effort to please his patron, and perhaps also to Houdon's increased familiarity with his subject's features.


* Works in the collection are moved off view for many different reasons. Although gallery locations on the website are updated regularly, there is no guarantee that this object will be on display on the day of your visit.