Benjamin Franklin Benjamin Franklin
(1706-1790)
Jean-Antione Houdon (1741-1828)
Terra-cotta, cast after 1778 original

Benjamin Franklin liked to style himself simply as "B. Franklin, Printer," but this unassuming description belied a native urbanity, intellect, and shrewdness that made him one of the most brilliant figures of the American Revolution. An early advocate of political union in the colonies, he assisted Thomas Jefferson in drafting the Declaration of Independence. It was, however, as the Continental Congress' ambassador to France that he performed his greatest service in the war with Britain. Consciously cultivating an air of provencal simplicity, he thoroughly won over the cosmopolitan French and, in doing so, forged an alliance with France that was to contribute heavily to the success of his cause. As a negotiator of the Treaty of Paris ending the Revolution in 1783, he again demonstrated his singular gifts in a succession of subtle maneuvers that, in substantial measure, won terms far more favorable to America than it might have expected.

The celebrated French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon modeled his bust of Franklin from observations made in the course of social encounters with his subject in Paris. Despite the lack of formal sittings, the likeness was considered exceptionally good, and in late 1778 a French observer noted that all of Paris was flocking to Houdon's studio to view his rendering of America's charming ambassador.