© President and Fellows of Harvard College
Gallery Text

Painted in France, this portrait projects the unpretentious image that Benjamin Franklin cultivated during his tenure as an American diplomat. Duplessis captures the charming manner, thick belly, modest style of dress, and loose, unpowdered hair that helped elevate Franklin into something of a celebrity in refined Parisian circles.

Duplessis’s painting was one of three portraits of Franklin exhibited to acclaim at the Salon of 1779. After less than three years in France, the American ambassador had been portrayed in prints, paintings, busts, on porcelain, and in medallions that traveled across Europe and the Atlantic. The sudden ubiquity of Franklin’s likeness led him to quip that his face was “as well known as that of the moon.”

Identification and Creation
Object Number
Joseph Siffred Duplessis, French (Carpentras, France 1725 - 1802 Versailles, France)
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
Work Type
c. 1778
Physical Descriptions
Oil on canvas
71.1 x 57.2 cm (28 x 22 1/2 in.)
framed: 86.5 x 73 cm (34 1/16 x 28 3/4 in.)
Bequest of Grenville L. Winthrop to the Fogg Art Museum, 1943.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Bequest of Grenville L. Winthrop
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art
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Publication History

Washington, Lafayette, Franklin: Portraits, Books, Manuscripts, Prints, Memorabilia, for the Most Part from the Collections of the University, exh. cat., Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1944), p. 27, cat. 53

Louise Todd Ambler, Benjamin Franklin: A Perspective, exh. cat., Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1975), pp. 83, 122-123, no. 44, ill. p. 83

Edgar Peters Bowron, European Paintings Before 1900 in the Fogg Art Museum: A Summary Catalogue including Paintings in the Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 1990), pp. 106, 220, cat. 254, ill.

Edwin S. Gaustad, "Disciples of Reason", Christian History (Worcester, PA, May 1, 1996), vol. 15, issue 2, p. 28, ill.

Benjamin Franklin, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, ed. Leonard, W. Labaree, Yale University Press (U.S.) (New Haven, CT, and London, 2003), detail on cover; ill. on back cover

Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr. and Melissa Renn, American Paintings at Harvard, Volume One: Paintings, Watercolors, and Pastels by Artists Born before 1826, Yale University Press and Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge and New Haven, 2014), p. 492

Exhibition History

Washington Lafayette Franklin, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 02/22/1944 - 05/28/1944

Benjamin Franklin: A Perspective, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 04/17/1975 - 09/22/1975

For Students of Art and Lovers of Beauty: Highlights from the Collection of Grenville L. Winthrop, Harvard University Art Museums, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 04/16/2004

32Q: 2240 18th Century, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/01/2014 - 10/06/2016

Subjects and Contexts

Google Art Project

Related Works

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of European and American Art at am_europeanamerican@harvard.edu