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Painting of Benjamin Franklin

David Martin

David Martin was a major Scottish portrait painter of the 18th century who captured on paint a number of the most important men of his age. He was born in Anstruther, Fife , Scotland on the 1st of April 1737, the son of a local schoolmaster and came to the attention of Allan Ramsay, the great Scottish portrait painter of his day. Martin joined Ramsay on the 'Grand Tour' in Italy in 1756. Martin worked closely with Ramsay at first but developed his own style. His most acclaimed portrait was of the Statesman and scientist, Benjamin Franklin (1767).

In 1766, Franklin was in London, testifying eloquently before the House of Commons for the repeal of the Stamp Act. His public reputation, however, rested on his scientific achievements. His Experiments and Observations on Electricity (1751) had been often reprinted, and he had received numerous honorary degrees and awards for his important work. While in London, Franklin's portrait was commissioned by his friend, Edinburgh wine merchant Robert Alexander, from Alexander's protégé Scottish artist David Martin. Franklin obviously liked the portrait, which was exhibited to London audiences in the spring of 1767, for he commissioned this slightly modified replica and shipped it home to Philadelphia. Franklin wears a blue suit with elaborate gold braid and buttons, a far cry from the simple dress he affected at the French court in later years, and a wig of the type called "physical," usually worn by physicians and other men of learning. Martin has portrayed Franklin as a studious, and prosperous, man of science, seated amongst his books and papers, overlooked by a bust of Isaac Newton. Franklin supports his head with his right hand, in a pose traditionally associated with deep thought, but in this case the gesture, in which only the thumb actually supports his head, gives far more alertness to the pose than that of a weary scholar. Emphasis is placed on Franklin's intense concentration, contained within an appropriately poised and dignified body.

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