Charles Willson Peale, 1789
Oil on canvas, 36 x 27”
Gift of James J. Barclay, 1852
Historical Society of Pennsylvania Collection
Portrait / Science

Although not born in Philadelphia, the history of Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) and this city are intimately linked. Many of his greatest achievements occurred here: the discovery of electricity; the development of public hospitals, educational institutions, and civic organizations; and his participation in the founding of the American Republic.

Franklin pioneered so many firsts. This portrait, however, is one of the last for which he ever sat. He could only pose 15 minutes a day for his friend Charles Willson Peale. Sadly, Franklin died before the painting’s completion and Peale finished his work from memory.

Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827) was born in Maryland and he studied painting under John Hesselius. He then traveled to London to study with Benjamin West. He served in the Continental Army and settled in Philadelphia, where he opened his Museum. He painted many of the most important American’ s of his day and was also a scientist and inventor. He named his sons after famous artists and Titian, Rembrandt, Raphael, and Rubens became painters as well.