Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) portrait by David Martin (1737-1797) c 1766-67 While in London, Franklin's portrait was commissioned by his friend, Edinburgh wine merchant Robert Alexander. Alexander paid fellow Scot David Martin to paint the portrait.
In 1766, Franklin was in London, lobbying & attempting to testify before the House of Commons for the repeal of the Stamp Act. Even though he was well-known in the English Parliament, he was not successful in convincing them to change their minds.
At that time, Franklin's reputation rested on his scientific achievements. His Experiments and Observations on Electricity (1751) had been reprinted, and he had received numerous honorary degrees & awards for that work.
Franklin admired the portrait, which was exhibited to London audiences in the spring of 1767, and he commissioned this slightly modified replica & shipped it back home to Philadelphia.
Here the artist portrays Franklin in a blue suit with elaborate gold braid & buttons, a far cry from the simple frontier dress he affected at the French court in later years. He also wears a popular wig of the era called "physical," usually worn by physicians & other men of learning. Martin portrayed Franklin as a studious, prosperous man of science, seated among books & papers. The impressive beribboned document; books & pamphlets & the bust of Isaac Newton invoke Enlightenment ideals.
Here Franklin supports his head with his right hand, in a pose traditionally associated with deep thought; but in this case only the thumb actually supports his head, giving far more alertness to the pose than that of an aging 67-year-old. Some refer to this as the "thumb portrait."