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Property from the Stuart Karu Collection

Bust of Benjamin Franklin

Bust of Benjamin Franklin
together with a cast bronze bust of Benjamin Franklin, marked Reduction Mecanique a Collas Brevete
painted plaster
30 in. high, 21 in. wide (2)
Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834), Chateau de Chavagnac, France, by 1792
Thence by descent in the family
D.A. Bernstein, Sound Beach, Connecticut, 1930
Charles Messer Stow, "The Franklin of Caffieri and His Contemporaries," The Antiquarian, vol. XV (November 1930), pp. 58-60.
Apollo, vol. XXV (March 1937), p. 174.
Sotheby's, London, 5 March 1937.
Charles Coleman Sellers, Benjamin Franklin in Portraiture (New Haven, CT, 1962), pp. 240-246, pl. 15.
Kamin Gallery, The Intellectual World of Benjamin Franklin: An American Encyclopaedist at the University of Pennsylvania, (The University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1990), p. 104, no. 158.
San Francisco, Panama Pacific International Exhibition, 1914.
Philadelphia, Kamin Gallery, University of Pennsylvania, The Intellectual World of Benjamin Franklin: Encyclopaedist at the University of Pennsylvania, 1990.
New York City, New York University, Bobst Library, Benjamin Franklin as Seen by Himself and Others, 2006.
Sale Room Notice
Please note that the provenance for this lot should not include Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York, as stated in the printed catalogue.

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Lot Essay

Dedicated to the arts by taste, [Dufourny] believes that he cannot make a nobler and more patriotic use of his talents than to bestow upon his country the bust of the illustrious Franklin, whom another hemisphere threatens to take away from us and yet who should believe himself a citizen of the entire world
-Jean Baptiste Jacques Elie de Beaumont, letter to Benjamin Franklin, 8 March 1777 (Franklin Papers, American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, vol. 5, part II, no. 99).

An original sculpture with an impressive provenance, this bust of Benjamin Franklin is a masterful and important survival of a likeness of the renowned statesman. Executed by Louis Pierre Dufourny de Villiers in 1777, the bust was owned by the Marquis de Lafayette by 1792. It was the first sculptured rendition of Franklin after he arrived in France and Franklin's immediate and immense appeal to the people of France is evident in the letter requesting he sit for the work. Partly cited above, the letter notes Dufourny's ardent desire to record a likeness of Franklin for the benefit of his countrymen. Though attributed to Caffieri, the bust was first published in 1930 by Charles Messer Stow, who referenced documents attesting to the presence of the bust in Chavagnac, the chateau of the Marquis de Lafayette in 1792 and 1883 (Charles Messer Stow, "The Franklin of Caffieri and His Contemporaries," The Antiquarian, vol. XV (November 1930), pp. 58-60; the whereabouts of these documents are unknown). Charles Coleman Sellers speculates that the first was an inventory and points out that the second was most likely a photograph because when the bust was offered at Sotheby's in 1937, along with a Houdon bust of Washington, the catalogue stated that "Photographs showing the busts in the home of Lafayette and the original affidavit accompany the lot" (Charles Coleman Sellers, Benjamin Franklin in Portraiture (1962), p. 241).
Dufourny was an enthusiastic supporter of both the American and French Revolutions. Elected president of the Jacobin Club, he gave the club a bust of Franklin in December 1791 "in veneration for the memory of Dr. Franklin" and at the time of his presentation, recalled his own friendship with his earlier subject. Illustrating what very well might be the bust of Franklin offered here, the painting in fig. 1 may depict the interior of the club as some of the other busts depict figures also known to have been represented in the club's collection, such as Mirabeau and Rousseau (Sellers, pp. 244-245). Sellers makes a convincing argument that the bust is the Dufourny example offered here and previously in the Bernstein collection:

The sharp curve of its under surface down to the circular socle is the same as that from the Bernstein Collection. The smaller mouth and the line of cheek and chin at the left are the same. The button is missing and the scarf more tightly knotted, but these are details one would hardly expect the artist to follow in a freely-sketched representation. -Sellers, p. 245

Though not verified, the figures in the work have long been thought to be those of the Marquis de Lafayette and Madame Roland. Lifelong friends with shared interests in America and France, Franklin and Lafayette held a deep admiration for each other and it is not surprising that the Frenchman would own such an important bust of Franklin. A hero of the American Revolution, Lafayette frequently worked with Franklin toward the fight for independence and freedom. Similarly Dufourny engaged Franklin in his support of the French Revolution. Franklin, as embodied in this bust, thus represented to these two men the ideals of patriotism, nobility and freedom.

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