Friday, November 15, 2013

A Jewel of a Franklin Miniature

In October, Library Company Trustee Davida Deutsch saw a Franklin miniature by French artist Jean Baptiste Weyler (1747-1791) for sale at the Phillip Mould Gallery in London.  One look and she knew we had to acquire it for the Library Company. 

Painted by Weyler in a series of miniatures on enamel he described as a “panthéon iconographique” of famous men whose likenesses he wanted to preserve for posterity, Franklin was the most popular of the series’ subjects. The ¾” high portrait—one of five extant versions—is in a jeweled setting most likely contemporary and commissioned so that the image could be worn as a pendant.  Although the original for the portrait has not been identified, it is thought to have been a pastel from life.  Charles Coleman Sellers thought enough of this painting to feature it as the frontispiece of, and only color illustration in, his 1962 Benjamin Franklin in Portraiture.

This piece went onto the market in 1957 as part of the noteworthy David David-Weill collection of miniatures and enamels and was acquired by Sir Charles Clore. It is in a gold frame with a lacy border of foliage set with enameled urns and a basket dotted with seed pearls, and encircled by a delicate enameled ribbon.  The gorgeous frame—worked front and back—sparkles with its enameled notes in cobalt blue, emerald green, pale blue, and white.

Our prized snuff box set with a Franklin miniature on ivory, the gift of Stuart Karu, is too fragile to exhibit year-round.  The enamel of the Weyler miniature will stand up to exhibition lighting, allowing us to make it a permanent fixture of our art and artifact display.  Having found last year’s standout acquisition—Peter Collinson’s History of London—at the New York Book Fair, Ms. Deutsch has again helped make a spectacular addition to the Library Company’s collection and one that’s sure to be a draw for avid Franklin fans.  Generous contributions from the Trustees have helped us raise most of the $16,000 purchase price and exhibition furniture cost.  With your help we can bring this jewel home to Philadelphia.   

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