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Benjamin Franklin by David Martin

Benjamin Franklin by David Martin

David Martin; 1767; Oil on canvas on panel, 50 x 40 inches.

The portrait of Benjamin Franklin was commissioned by Robert Alexander, of the firm of William Alexander & Sons, Edinburgh. The impressive beribboned document held by Franklin in the portrait is not a treaty or an Act of Parliament, but one of Alexander's deeds! The other books and pamphlets suggest the learned evidence brought in support of a wise man's decision. The bust of Isaac Newton, whose gaze is directed toward Franklin, invokes the greatest English voice of Reason. The portrait nonetheless sits squarely in the broader tradition of Enlightenment. The pressure of the thumb against the chin expresses the pressure of concentrated thought (the painting has sometimes been called the 'thumb portrait'), and the refracted light of Franklin's spectacles on his cheek furthers the effect.

Kloss, William, et al. Art in the White House: A Nation's Pride. Washington, D.C.: The White House Historical Association, 2008.

David Martin
Date of Work
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Walter H. Annenberg