American Commissioners of the Preliminary Peace Negotiations with Great Britain, 1783-1785
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Photo courtesy of Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library

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West intended to produce a set of paintings recording the great events of the American Revolution, and to oversee their engraving and publication as prints. As soon as the preliminary peace was signed, he began by taking portraits of the American negotiators: John Jay, John Adams, Franklin, and Henry Laurens. He included William Temple Franklin, secretary to Franklin.

They are shown along the left side of the sketch, gathered around a table that has a suggestion of papers on it; a single document (still blank in the sketch) unrolls down the fore edge of the table. Behind the men is the obligatory drawn-aside curtain, revealing an endless blue sky and the shadowy suggestion of a building behind Temple Franklin. The right side of the painting was to have included Richard Oswald, the British Commissioner, and his secretary, Caleb Whitefoord. The faces of the men are shown in detail, though Franklin's portrait was not taken from life. Rather, West relied on several sources: his long acquaintance with Franklin; a miniature after Duplessis owned by a London friend of Franklin's; a Joseph Wright portrait owned by one of the British negotiators, Caleb Whitefoord; and others. The negotiators' bodies are sketched quickly, but very surely, giving them the appearance of vigor.

Whitefoord died in November 1784. Oswald was unavailable for a sitting, so the right half of the sketch was not completed. The series on the revolution got no further, but the incomplete sketch is a powerful realization of the American participants.

Connection to Franklin
Historical scene depicting Franklin Terms of Use Credits