Benjamin Franklin Drawing Electricity from the Sky

Benjamin Westc. 1816

Philadelphia Museum of Art

Philadelphia Museum of Art
Philadelphia, United States

This dramatic painting by Benjamin West commemorates the 1752 experiment in Philadelphia in which Benjamin Franklin demonstrated that lightning is a form of electricity. West was born in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, in 1738, when the American colonies were still part of the British Empire, and became an renowned history painter and the second president of England’s Royal Academy of Arts. While in London, West befriended Franklin, a fellow Pennsylvanian, but did not render this likeness of the celebrated scientist and American statesman until after his death, creating it as a study for a larger, unrealized portrait that he planned to give to Pennsylvania Hospital, an institution Franklin founded in Philadelphia. West intended to display the larger picture with another of his compositions and a self-portrait, perhaps as an homage to Americans who had achieved international acclaim in science and the arts.


  • Title: Benjamin Franklin Drawing Electricity from the Sky
  • Creator Lifespan: 1738/1820
  • Creator Nationality: English (born America)
  • Creator Gender: Male
  • Creator Death Place: London, England
  • Creator Birth Place: Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, United States
  • Date: c. 1816
  • Location: England
  • Physical Dimensions: w10.08 x h13.38 in (Overall)
  • Provenance: Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Wharton Sinkler, 1958
  • Type: Paintings
  • Rights: © 2014 Philadelphia Museum of Art. All rights reserved.
  • External Link: Philadelphia Museum of Art
  • Medium: Oil on slate
  • Artist/Maker: Benjamin West, English (born America), 1738 - 1820

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