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Portrait, Historical, American, Benjamin Franklin, Electricity Experiment, Benjamin West, Antique Mezzotint Print, c. 1900

$1,200

Benjamin West (1738-1820) (after)
Benjamin Franklin Drawing Electricity from the Sky
Godefroy Mayer, Paris: c. 1900
Blindstamp lower left: “Cercle Librairie Estampes HHR”
Color-printed mezzotint, chine appliqué on paper
15 x 11 inches, image
15.75 x 11.75 inches, platemark
21.25 x 16.25 inches, overall
$1,200

Portrait of Benjamin Franklin performing his famous experiment of June 1752 in which he attached a key to a kite and flew it in a thunderstorm in order to prove that lightning was electricity. The print is based on a small oil painting by Benjamin West (1738-1820) created in about 1816 and now in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. West’s style is allied with the Romanticism popular at the time — a heroic Franklin draped in a billowing, windblown red cape against a stormy sky. As the museum’s web site points out, this dramatic depiction “rises to the level of allegory…with Franklin perched on clouds and surrounded by angelic assistants.” West and Franklin were friends in London between 1765 and 1775 and Franklin was godfather to one of West’s sons. Nonetheless, Franklin did not pose for the portrait: “Rather, West seems to have relied on an engraving or copy after a miniature portrait by the French artist Jean-Baptiste Weyler of about 1782” (Philadelphia Museum of Art, see References below).

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Description

Godefroy Mayer was a French publisher and print seller based in Paris at the turn of the 20th century. He also was a noted and knowledgeable collector of Americana. A 1902 edition of The Publisher’s Weekly noted that his shop on the Rue Pigalle carried 1304 titles including “rare portraits, views and historical prints relating to America, etc.”

Full publication information “From the Original Picture by Benjamin West, P.R.A. Paris, Published by Godefroy Mayer, No. 15, Rue Pigalle.”

Condition: Generally very good, the colors bright, with the usual overall light toning and wear. Some scattered foxing, mostly confined to the margins and can be matted out. Some tape residue verso from former matting, not affecting the front.

References:

“Benjamin Franklin Drawing Electricity from the Sky.” PhiladelphiaMuseum of Art. 2009. http://www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/57044.html (8 September 2009).

The Publishers Weekly. Vol. 61 Philadelphia: R.R. Bowker Company, 1902. p. 1178. Online at Google Books. http://books.google.com/books?id=v_27AAAAIAAJ&dq (8 September 2009).