1 of 8 portraits of Benjamin Franklin
- Extended catalogue entry
Mid-Georgian Portraits Catalogue
by Jean Baptiste Nini
4 3/4 in. (121 mm) diameter
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Inscriptionback to top
Incised on the truncation: NINI F 1777 with an armorial device, a coronet (‘une couronne de fantaisie’) above a shield displaying a hand holding a rod drawing lightning; lettered: .B.FRANKLIN. AMERICAIN. and 1777
This portraitback to top
Showing Franklin soon after his arrival in Paris: ‘my thin grey hair peeps out from under my only coiffeur, a fine Fur Cap, which comes down to my Forehead ... Think how this must appear among the Powder’d Heads of Paris! I wish every gentleman and Lady in France would only be so obliging as to follow my Fashion’.  The fur cap, which Nini had heard of but not seen, was copied from an engraved portrait of Rousseau,  the profile from a drawing by the amateur artist Thomas Walpole. On 11 December 1777 Franklin told the artist’s father, ‘From a sketch ... which was drawn by your ingenious & valuable Son, they have made ... Medallions in terre cuit. A Dozen have been presented to me.’ 
The medallion was mass-produced, Storelli describing it as being ‘éxpedié par milliers en Amerique’; undelivered consignments were discovered in the 19th century at the Château de Chaumont where the Leray factory, of which Nini had been manager, had been located.  The medallion was also produced in a smaller size (diameter c.9cm.),  and was copied by Wedgwood.  A much rarer type by Nini differs only in the addition of Franklin’s spectacles,  and another of 1777 adds a ‘bonnet de liberté’.  In 1778, when Franklin became an accredited foreign representative at the French court, a more orthodox image was deemed desirable, and hat and spectacles disappeared.
Footnotesback to top
1) Franklin to Emma Thompson, 12 January 1777 (C. C. Sellers, Benjamin Franklin in Portraiture, 1962, pp 99-100).
2) By Allan Ramsay (illus. A. Smart ed. J. Ingamells, Allan Ramsay, a complete catalogue of his Paintings, 1999, no.451).
3) C. C. Sellers, Benjamin Franklin in Portraiture, 1962, p 345 (the banker Thomas Walpole).
4) A. Storelli, Jean Baptiste Nini, Sa Vie Son Oeuvre, 1896, p 23.
5) A. Storelli, Jean Baptiste Nini, Sa Vie Son Oeuvre, 1896, no.LXII.
6) Illus. R. Reilly and G. Savage, Wedgwood the Portrait Medallions, 1973, p 147.
7) A. Storelli, Jean Baptiste Nini, Sa Vie Son Oeuvre, 1896, no.LXIII; C. C. Sellers, Benjamin Franklin in Portraiture, 1962, p 346; A. C. Baiardi & B. Sibille, eds., J B Nini, exhibition catalogue, Urbino, Blois, 2001, no.93.
8) A. Storelli, Jean Baptiste Nini, Sa Vie Son Oeuvre, 1896, no.LXV; J B Nini, exhibition catalogue, Urbino, Blois, 2001, no.91.
Referenceback to top
Baiardi & Sibille, eds. 2001
A. C. Baiardi & B. Sibille, eds., J B Nini, exhibition catalogue, Urbino, Blois, 2001.
C. C. Sellers, Benjamin Franklin in Portraiture, 1962.
A. Storelli, Jean Baptiste Nini, Sa Vie Son Oeuvre, 1896, no.LXI.
Physical descriptionback to top
Bust to left, wearing a fur hat over his own hair.
Provenanceback to top
Presented by Charles Seidler 1884.
Reproductionsback to top
J. Hopwood; W. Grainger; J. Heath (from a medallion in the possession of Dr. Lettsom).
This extended catalogue entry is from the out-of-print National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: John Ingamells, National Portrait Gallery: Mid-Georgian Portraits 1760-1790, National Portrait Gallery, 2004, and is as published then. For the most up-to-date details on individual Collection works, we recommend reading the information provided in the Search the Collection results on this website in parallel with this text.
View all known portraits for Benjamin Franklin