Lorentz Sparrgren was a pupil of Pehr Hilleström at the Stockholm academy between 1783-88. He became as associate of the academy in 1796, member in 1800 and then teaching professor in 1810. The present work is based on a portrait of Franklin by Joseph Siffred Duplessis (1725-1802). The original portrait by Duplessis dated from 1778 and was painted during Franklin’s time in Paris where he was negotiating aid for the Revolutionary War.[1] This portrait of Franklin became well-known in a short space of time and by the time he left Paris in 1785, the ‘American cause’ was physically represented in Europe by his heroic figure. It is likely that the present miniaturised version of Duplessis’s portrait was commissioned by a supporter of America’s liberty in Sweden where Sparrgren was based at the time. Franklin’s portrait stood out as his self-fashioned simplicity was at odds with the formality of the age. His relaxed pose, unpretentious dress, and wigless head were trademarks...

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Lorentz Sparrgren was a pupil of Pehr Hilleström at the Stockholm academy between 1783-88. He became as associate of the academy in 1796, member in 1800 and then teaching professor in 1810. The present work is based on a portrait of Franklin by Joseph Siffred Duplessis (1725-1802). The original portrait by Duplessis dated from 1778 and was painted during Franklin’s time in Paris where he was negotiating aid for the Revolutionary War.[1] This portrait of Franklin became well-known in a short space of time and by the time he left Paris in 1785, the ‘American cause’ was physically represented in Europe by his heroic figure. It is likely that the present miniaturised version of Duplessis’s portrait was commissioned by a supporter of America’s liberty in Sweden where Sparrgren was based at the time. Franklin’s portrait stood out as his self-fashioned simplicity was at odds with the formality of the age. His relaxed pose, unpretentious dress, and wigless head were trademarks which would have made this portrait instantly recognisable. Another miniature version by Sparrgren is held in the National Portrait Gallery (Smithsonian) in America.[2]

Sparrgren was an adventurous artist – he travelled to China, where he intended to improve his technique of glass painting. After also spending some time in India, he settled in the mid-1790s in Paris, where he furthered his miniature painting prowess under the influence of artists such as Greuze and Augustin. Like many miniaturists, he also experimented working in other media. By 1803, on his return to Sweden, he was welcomed as a fully-fledged artist and he gained patronage from the highest echelons of society, painting king Karl XIV and Oscar I many times.

As might be expected, Sparrgren is well-represented in the Nationalmuseum, Sweden, with two self-portraits and many other miniatures spanning his career. A copy after the present portrait by Elise Arnberg (1826-1891) is also in the housed there.

Benjamin Franklin, the American statesman and polymath, was born in Boston, the youngest son of a soap and candle maker. After an apprenticeship in the print trade he escaped to New York, finally settling in Philadelphia. Here he set up in partnership with another printer and was able to publish his writings in pamphlets, eventually owning a newspaper and becoming the official printer of Philadelphia. His interests furthered into science, where he published theories on electricity.

When, in 1776, he was sent to Paris as a diplomat, he was welcomed into the scientific community where his high reputation allowed an entrée into society, including the court of King Louis XVI. In 1783, he signed the Peace Treaty, which recognised the independence of the United States of America.

[1] This 1783 portrait is, in itself, a variant of a pastel portrait by Duplessis now in the New York Public Library which is generally dated to 1778. This is likely the preliminary version of the portrait shown at Paris Salon in 1779, now at the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art, where Franklin is shown in the same pose but wearing a fur-trimmed red coat and waistcoat (accession number 32.100.132).

[2] Accession number DLR00051.

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500 Years of British Art