Francklin [Benjamin Franklin]. Charles Philippe Amedée Vanloo, engraver, Pierre Michel, after. Alix.
Francklin [Benjamin Franklin].

Francklin [Benjamin Franklin].

Paris: Marie François Drouhin, [ca. 1790]. Color-printed etching and aquatint. Overall dimensions: 15.125” x 11”. Oval: 9.875” x 8.25”.

A handsome aquatint portrait of Benjamin Franklin, based on a painting by French portraitist Charles Phillipe Vanloo.

In this captivating portrait print, engraver Pierre Michel Alix appealed to Revolutionary sentiment by replacing the sumptuous fur collar and cloak worn by Franklin in Vanloo’s painting with a simple gray coat and white cravat. The result is a vivid and attractive portrait that draws attention almost exclusively to Franklin’s wise and witty face, which is rendered all the more engaging through Alix’s skillful use of nuanced flesh tones.

According to Sellers, Vanloo’s portrait was painted from life at the request of Franklin’s intimate friend, Madame Helvetius, between 1777 and 1785. “Amuse me,” Franklin is said to have told her friends, “or you will have the most sorrowful portrait of me.” Apparently they succeeded, as Franklin’s visage is enlivened by a slight smile, as he gazes intently at the viewer through his spectacles. Vanloo’s portrait hung for 150 years in the Helvetius family home, the Château de Lumigny, Seine et Marne, before it was purchased by a Parisian Gallery and sold to the American Philosophical Society in 1948, where it resides today.

Charles Philippe Amédée Vanloo (1715–1795) was a French genre and portrait painter, with a taste for scientific subjects. His “La Lanterne Magique” belongs to the National Gallery, Washington. His “L’Electricité,” exhibited at the Salon of 1777, features an electrical machine that is similar to one that appears in the mezzotint portrait of Franklin after Benjamin Wilson.

Pierre Michel Alix (1762–1817) was a printmaker best known for his use of multiple-plate color printing techniques in the late eighteenth century. His color-printed works include numerous portraits of notables of the era, Franklin’s being perhaps the most important.

An unusually vivid and appealing portrait of the great diplomat, scientist, inventor, author and wit, who found a second home in the hearts of the French.

REFERENCES: Sellers, Charles Coleman. Benjamin Franklin in Portraiture, pp. 391–394.

CONDITION: Good, slightly rubbed.

This print is owned in partnership with Nick Aretakis, Americana.

Item #3570