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Bust of Benjamin Franklin
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Über das Objekt

This marble bust by the great Baroque sculptor Michael Rysbrack is the earliest known sculptural portrait of the American Enlightenment polymath and Founding Father Benjamin Franklin. Rysbrack’s Franklin cuts a younger, more dynamic, figure than the archetypal image known from later portraits, in which he appears calm and sage-like. In Rysbrack’s model, the viewer is presented with the vigorously energetic Franklin, before he had reached the zenith of his achievements. This is Franklin the entrepreneur, scientist, campaigner and tireless pamphleteer, the soon-to-be revolutionary. Rysbrack would have carved his portrait of Franklin whilst the American was working in London as agent for the Pennsylvania assembly, first between 1757 and 1762, and again between 1762 and 1775. The sculptor died in 1770, providing a terminus ante quem for the execution of the bust. It also seems likely that Franklin’s likeness was taken during his first sojourn in Britain, as his later stay was disrupted by the lead up to the American Wars of Independence. Franklin was certainly aware of Rysbrack’s work, for, in a letter to his friend Lord Kames, dated 3 January 1760, he describes ‘the busts of famous men’ in Viscount Cobham’s Temple of British Worthies at Stowe (Franklin, Writings, op. cit., vol. iv). Franklin was a wealthy man by the time he arrived in London in 1757, and so would easily have been able to afford a Rysbrack portrait bust. The sculptor was one of Britain’s most famous living artists, renowned for his portrait busts, and so would have been an obvious choice for Franklin, who had already created an international reputation for himself. Franklin may also have been drawn to Rysbrack because the sculptor had executed the tomb monument for his hero, Sir Isaac Newton, in Westminster Abbey. Rysbrack was also responsible for a portrait bust of Newton (terracotta at Trinity College, Cambridge), which, interestingly, may be the bust that appears in one of the earliest paintings of Franklin, painted by David Martin in 1762 (Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts; inv. no. 1943.16.1) (the sculpture included by Martin could alternatively be the model by Louis-Francois Roubiliac).\nRysbrack’s Franklin finds numerous comparisons within the sculptor’s wider oeuvre. The relaxed appearance, dressed in indoor clothing, with open shirt and without a wig, would have appealed to the famously informal Franklin. This type of presentation was fashionable throughout the first half of the 18th century, and conveyed the sitter’s status as a cultivated intellect and man of letters. Such associations had been cemented by Lord Burlington, who was presented in this informal mode by Jonathan Richardson in circa 1717-1719 (National Portrait Gallery, London; inv. no. NPG 4818). The present bust can be paralleled with Rysbrack’s marble Alexander Pope in the National Portrait Gallery, London (inv. no. NPG 5854). Pope is also presented with open shirt and unbuttoned jacket, his head turned to one side. Note the analogous way that Pope’s hair falls onto his shoulders, and the subtle lines beneath his eyes. The present bust exhibits superb carving in the wavy locks of hair, which fall around Franklin’s ears. The sitter’s physiognomic idiosyncracies are masterfully delineated, observe the protrouding bottom lip and the pieces of flesh connecting the earlobes with the cheeks.\nMichael Rysbrack was one of the greatest British 18th-century sculptors. A Fleming by birth, he arrived in London in 1720. His early tomb sculptures captivated the British public and soon he could count Lord Burlington, Viscount Cobham, and Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, amongst his most loyal patrons. Sarah Churchill’s patronage led him to create one of his most important tombs, that of John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough at Blenheim Palace. Rysbrack’s greatest public commission was his equestrian statue of King William III in Queen Square Bristol of 1733-1736. Important works by Rysbrack can be found in many of the world’s leading museums, including the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.\nRELATED LITERATURE\nM. I. Webb, Michael Rysbrack, London, 1954; J. Kenworthy-Browne, 'Portrait Busts by Rysbrack', National Trust Studies 1980 (1979), 67; B. Frankin, Writings, New York, reprinted 1987; Robert Williams and Katharine Eustace. "Rysbrack." Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 11 May. 2014. ;\nKatharine Eustace, ‘Rysbrack, (John) Michael (1694–1770)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2009 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/24427, accessed 11 May 2014]\nSigned and inscribed on the reverse:Benjamin FranklinMichl:  Ryfbrack Sculpt:
GB
GB
GB

medium

59cm., 23¼in.

condition

The bust was offered in weathered condition in the 1980s and has since been polished. As such some of the details appear somewhat soft. There is dirt to the surface consistent with age and placement outside, including some scuffs to the high points of the drapery, There is some faint veining and mottling visible on the surface consistent with material. There are a few nicks to the truncation and the shoulder and the collar on the proper left side and chips to the lower edge at the front. There is a small chip to the proper left eyebrow. The rectangular veined green marble base used for the exhibition of the bust is available to the buyer at no charge. "In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue. NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF BUSINESS PRINTED IN THE SALE CATALOGUE."

literature

G. Balderston, 'Rysbrack, Michael 1694-1770', I. Roscoe (ed.), A biographical dictionary of sculptors in Britain 1660-1851, New Haven and London, 2009, p. 1089, no. 251

provenance

Patrick Crawley, Esq., Yorkshire, United Kingdom; his sale, Christie's London, 24 April 1986, lot 89; private collection, United Kingdom

signedDate

Signed and inscribed on the reverse:Benjamin FranklinMichl:  Ryfbrack Sculpt:


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*Beachten Sie, dass der Preis nicht auf den aktuellen Wert umgerechnet wird, sondern sich auf den tatsächlichen Endpreis zum Zeitpunkt des Verkaufs des Objekts bezieht.


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