18th Century Prints, Engraving, Past/Present, Portraits, Prints

Past/Present: Benjamin Franklin Portraits

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From 1776 to 1785, Benjamin Franklin served as the first American ambassador to France. The French were very taken with Franklin and his New World “charm”; the enthused populace sustained a healthy market of printed and painted versions of his visage. Today, we share two small portraits of Franklin that circulated throughout France. This earlier print was one of the first available French images of Franklin. Publication of this print was first announced in the “Journal de Paris” of June 16, 1777. In this bust-length portrait, Franklin is depicted facing right, with Canadian fur-trapper hat, a simple cloth suit, and round spectacles.  Written accounts of Franklin’s time in Paris comment on Franklin’s plain manner of dressing, and the favorable impression it made on the French.

The second image, published circa 1780, is also a bust portrait of Benjamin Franklin, set in an oval frame. This is a variation of the Cochin portrait, altered to accord with the subject’s new ambassadorial dignity. Franklin is now depicted without spectacles, in a fur-lined satin dressing gown and a lace frilled shirt. The fur-trapper hat has been replaced with a more dignified and stylish cap, lightly trimmed with fur.

Image on Top:  Benjamin Franklin. Ne a Boston, dans la nouvelle Angleterre le 17 Janvier 1706. By Charles-Nicolas Cochin. Engraving, 1777. Engraved by Augustin de Saint Aubin. Image size 7 1/2 x 5 1/4″. LINK.

Image on Bottom: Benjamin Franklin. Ne a Boston dans la Nouvelle Angleterre, le 17 Janvier 1706. By Claude Louis Desrais. Engraving, c. 1780. Engraved by Pierre Adrien Le Beau. Image size 6 3/8 x 4 1/4″. LINK.