1881 "Franklin at the Court of France, 1778" Hand-Colored Engraving by William Overend Geller

This elegantly hand-colored 1881 engraving by William Overend Geller depicts Benjamin Franklin at the French court. The artist, William Overend Geller, was born in England and a master at several forms of printing including mezzotinting, aquatinting, engraving, and etching. He was exhibited at the renowned British Institution between 1843 and 1846.

Standing at the center of the room, Franklin holds his hat in his hand while a luxuriously dressed aristocratic woman displays a laurel above his head. In the margin just below the scene the work’s title, Franklin at the Court of France, 1778, is printed in block letters. The brightly colored and elaborately decorated costumes of the French court are starkly contrasted by Franklin’s simple attire.

Benjamin Franklin is celebrated as America’s first diplomat. He traveled to France in 1776 in order to gain political, military, and financial support for the American revolutionary cause. At the time, Franklin was one of the best known Americans famous as an inventor, writer, and scientist. Beloved by the French aristocracy, Dr. Franklin quickly became an icon. His image appeared in paintings, on snuff boxes, and even on medallions. Women adapted his signature fur cap into a style referred to as “coiffure a la Franklin.” In this scene, the laurel above Franklin’s head signifies his role as a guest of honor and many did see it as an honor to have him at court.

France recognized the United States as independent on December 17, 1777 and agreed to financially and later militarily aid the young country. Officially, a treaty was signed between France and the U.S. in 1778. The recognition and aid from France is almost exclusively attributed to Franklin’s efforts. The print, depicting French court in 1778 possibly lauds the American diplomat for his successful agreement with the country that later assured the U.S.’s victory over Britain.


Overall very good condition for age. The colors hand-painted on the print are still very vibrant and the work has no tears or loss. Two small abrasions are present at the right side of the work, just above the figure sitting in a chair. The print is presented in an elegant wooden frame and is housed according to modern archival standards.

Framed Dimensions: 37" H x 48 1/2" W x 1 1/2" D

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