Keith Arbour has researched various busts of Franklin used as architectural elements in the late eighteenth and early 19th centuries.2 Franklin’s bust was a popular architectural element used over shop doors, such as a bust for Isaac Beers’s New Haven bookstore and publishing house in the collection of the Yale Art Gallery (1804.4).3 He hypothesized that one possible original location for this bust was the southeast door of the House Chamber in Independence Hall that was mentioned by Henry Wansey in 1794.4 The southeast door was the main entrance to the House Chamber in 1793, but unfortunately the portico and the door were demolished in 1812.5
In 1976, Wayne Craven published the bust as attributed to William Rush in his book 200 Years of American Sculpture. This has subsequently been refuted by Linda Bantel in her 1982 monograph on Rush. Arbour noted that this bust appears closely related to Giuseppe Ceracchi’s (1751-1801) revision of Jean Jacques Caffieri (1725 -1792).6 While the artist and true use for this amazing object are yet unknown it proudly stands as a monument of late 18th century wood carving of “The First American.”
1 Richard Newman, Examination Report, Department of Objects Conservation and Scientific Research, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, September 5, 1996.
2 Arbour,“Draft of preliminary report for Michael Zinman on Painted Pine Bust of Benjamin Franklin...,” manuscript, December 2, 1995, 2-3.
3 Charles Colman Sellers, Benjamin Franklin in Portraiture (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1962), p. 358.
4 Henry Wansey, An Excursion to the United States of North America in the Summer of 1794 (Salisbury: Printed and sold by J. Easton, 1798), p. 112.
5 Letter, Keith Arbour to Karie Deithirn, January 19, 1996.
6 Sellers, Benjamin Franklin in Portraiture, illus. 17.
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