Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Mrs. Richard Bache (Sarah Franklin, 1743–1808)

John Hoppner (British, London 1758–1810 London)
Oil on canvas
30 1/8 x 24 7/8 in. (76.5 x 63.2 cm)
Credit Line:
Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Collection, Wolfe Fund, 1901
Accession Number:
Not on view
In 1767 Benjamin Franklin's only daughter Sarah married Richard Bache (1737–1811), later postmaster general of the United States. In 1780 she became the leader of a patriotic organization supplying money and clothing for the Revolutionary War effort, having at one time over 2,000 women employed under her direction. This portrait and that of her husband (private collection) were painted in 1793 in London.
Sarah, Benjamin Franklin’s only daughter, was born in Philadelphia on September 11, 1743, and married Richard Bache (1737–1811), a Philadelphia merchant who had emigrated from the village of Settle in Yorkshire, on October 29, 1767. The couple had eight children, the only direct descendants of Benjamin Franklin. Richard succeeded his father-in-law as postmaster general of the United States in 1776, a position he held until 1782, and Sarah was active in support of the American cause during the Revolutionary War. The couple lived in the Franklin house with their family, and after Franklin returned permanently to Philadelphia in 1785, Sarah acted as his hostess and cared for him until his death in 1790.

When Franklin completed his diplomatic mission to France, Louis XVI presented him with a miniature portrait of himself surrounded by 408 diamonds. Franklin left this object to Sarah, but stipulated that she should not make the diamonds into ornaments and thereby encourage the “expensive, vain, and useless fashion of wearing jewels” (Lopez and Herbert 1975). Instead, the diamonds were sold, and with a portion of the proceeds the Baches set off for England in the late spring or early summer of 1792. They settled in London from that winter through the following summer, and during their stay in the city Hoppner painted them both (a companion piece of Richard Bache is in a private collection, New Jersey; see Additional Images, fig. 1). The couple brought the canvases back to Philadelphia, where they were well received.

In 1813 Rembrandt Peale copied the portraits of Sarah (private collection, Connecticut) and Richard (location unknown). Thomas Sully made two copies of Sarah’s portrait: one in 1834, for his own collection (Philadelphia Museum of Art), and another in 1865, for a grandson of the sitter (Diplomatic Reception Rooms, Department of State, Washington, D.C.). Sully’s son, Thomas Wilcocks Sully, copied it in 1838 (Mead Art Museum, Amherst College, Massachusetts).

[2010; adapted from Baetjer 2009]
Mr. and Mrs. Richard Bache, Settle Farm, near Bristol, Pennsylvania (until her d. 1808); Richard Bache, Settle Farm (1808–d. 1811); their son, Richard Bache Jr., Philadelphia (1811–d. 1848); his son, Alexander Dallas Bache (1848–d. 1867); his sister, Mary Bache (Mrs. Robert J.) Walker, Washington, D.C. (1867–at least 1898); her family, represented by Isabella K. Walker (until 1901; sold to MMA)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Benjamin Franklin and His Circle," May 11–September 13, 1936, no. 85.

Palm Beach. Society of the Four Arts. "Portraits, Figures and Landscapes," January 12–February 4, 1951, no. 22.

Plymouth, Mass. Pilgrim Society. "Remember the Ladies: Women in America 1750–1815," June 30–September 26, 1976, unnumbered cat.

Washington. Corcoran Gallery of Art. "Remember the Ladies: Women in America 1750–1815," December 3–31, 1976, unnumbered cat.

Chicago Historical Society. "Remember the Ladies: Women in America 1750–1815," January 18–February 20, 1977, unnumbered cat.

Austin, Tex. Lyndon Baines Johnson Library. "Remember the Ladies: Women in America 1750–1815," March 15–April 23, 1977, unnumbered cat.

New-York Historical Society. "Remember the Ladies: Women in America 1750–1815," May 10–June 15, 1977, unnumbered cat.

Atlanta. High Museum of Art. "Remember the Ladies: Women in America 1750–1815," October 16–November 14, 1976, unnumbered cat.

Washington. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. "Mr. Sully, Portrait Painter: The Works of Thomas Sully (1783–1872)," June 3–September 5, 1983, no. 80.

Philadelphia. National Constitution Center. "Benjamin Franklin: In Search of A Better World," December 15, 2005–April 30, 2006, unnumbered cat. (ill. p. 130).

St. Louis. Missouri Historical Society. "Benjamin Franklin: In Search of A Better World," June 8–September 4, 2006, unnumbered cat. (ill. p. 130).

Houston Museum of Natural Science. "Benjamin Franklin: In Search of A Better World," October 11, 2006–January 21, 2007, unnumbered cat. (ill. p. 130).

Denver Museum of Nature and Science. "Benjamin Franklin: In Search of A Better World," March 2, 2007–May 20, 2007.

Atlanta History Center. "Benjamin Franklin: In Search of A Better World," July 4–October 14, 2007.

Phoebe Hoppner. Letter to Sarah Bache. January 1, 1795 [American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia; Sarah Franklin Bache Papers B/B1245; the letter is dated January 1, 1794, but this is old style and actually refers to January 1, 1795], mentions her husband's satisfaction in knowing that the portraits were well received by members of the Bache family.

Rembrandt Peale. Letter to Professor Charles Hodge. July 19, 1847 [published in L. B. Miller, ed. "The Collected Papers of Charles Willson Peale and His Family," 1980, microfiche edition, series VI A, card 10, row E, frames 6–10], describes how he came to paint the "Portraits of old Mr. and Mrs. Bache which had been painted by Hopner [sic]".

William Duane, ed. Letters to Benjamin Franklin, from His Family and Friends: 1751–1790. New York, 1859, p. 3, ill. opp. p. 57 (lithograph by Peter Krämer) [reprint, 1970, p. 3, ill. opp. p. 84], mentions the likeness as from the portrait painted during the sitter's 1792 visit to England.

James Parton. Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin. New York, 1864, vol. 2, ill. after title page (engraving).

Paul Leicester Ford. "The Many-Sided Franklin: Franklin's Family Relations." Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine 57 (November 1898), p. 37, ill. (engraving), as painted in 1792, in the collection of Mrs. Duncan S. Walker, Washington, D.C.

Sydney George Fisher. The True Benjamin Franklin. Philadelphia, 1899, pp. 15, 119, ill. (engraving), observes that none of the reproductions are faithful to the original.

Mrs. E. D. Gillespie. A Book of Remembrance. Philadelphia, 1901, pp. 27–28, calls the portrait of Sarah, her grandmother, an excellent likeness, even though the sitter "had a strong objection to having her likeness taken"; states that the original and the Thomas Sully copies remain in the family's possession.

W. Stanton Howard. "Portrait of Sarah Bache." Harper's Monthly Magazine 106 (1903), pp. 796–97, ill. (engraving on wood by Henry Wolf), relates that Hoppner made a gift of this portrait while Franklin commissioned that of Richard Bache, and opines that the treatment of the scarf and headdress lack the fluency of some later portraits.

William McKay and W[illiam]. Roberts. John Hoppner, R.A. London, 1909, pp. 9–10.

Charles Henry Hart. A Register of Portraits Painted by Thomas Sully 1801–1871. Philadelphia, 1909, p. 23, lists nos. 59 and 60 as copies after this portrait.

Edward Biddle and Mantle Fielding. The Life and Works of Thomas Sully. Philadelphia, 1921, pp. 90–91, lists nos. 64 and 65 as copies after this portrait.

Walter Rowlands and Brad Stephens. The Pictorial Life of Benjamin Franklin Printer. Philadelphia, 1923, unpaginated, ill.

C. H. Collins Baker. British Painting. London, 1933, p. 280.

Thomas Fleming. The Man Who Dared Lightning: A New Look at Benjamin Franklin. New York, 1971, opp. p. 180, ill.

Edward T. James, ed. Notable American Women 1607–1950. Cambridge, Mass., 1971, vol. 1, p. 76, dates it 1792, when the Baches visited England.

Thomas Fleming, ed. The Founding Fathers: Benjamin Franklin A Biography in His Own Words. New York, 1972, ill. p. 213.

Claude-Anne Lopez and Eugenia W. Herbert. The Private Franklin: The Man and His Family. New York, 1975, pp. 140, 307, ill., mention that the Baches' trip to England was financed by the sale of the diamonds surrounding the miniature given to Benjamin Franklin by Louis XVI, date this portrait to the winter of 1792, and describe elements of the costume as a "fichu Marie-Antoinette" and a Phrygian cap, fashionable during the French Revolution.

Linda Grant De Pauw and Conover Hunt. Remember the Ladies: Women in America 1750–1815. Exh. cat., Pilgrim Society, Plymouth, Mass. New York, 1976, pp. 92–93, ill. (color).

Monroe H. Fabian. Mr. Sully, Portrait Painter: The Works of Thomas Sully (1783–1872). Exh. cat., National Portrait Gallery. Washington, 1983, p. 121, no. 80, ill., dates it to 1793 in his discussion of the two copies by Sully.

John Human Wilson. "The Life and Work of John Hoppner (1758–1810)." PhD diss., Courtauld Institute of Art, London, 1992, vol. 1, pp. 173–76; vol. 2, fig. 39, considers the picture a good example of Hoppner's honesty in psychological portrayal, calls the portrait type Venetian and admires the subtle sfumato technique.

Lillian B. Miller. In Pursuit of Fame: Rembrandt Peale 1778–1860. Exh. cat., National Portrait Gallery. Washington, 1992, p. 58, mentions Peale's 1812 copy.

Paintings from Europe and the Americas in the Philadelphia Museum of Art: A Concise Catalogue. Philadelphia, 1994, p. 301, lists Sully's 1834 copy.

John Wilson in The Dictionary of Art. Ed. Jane Turner. Vol. 14, New York, 1996, p. 754, ill.

Katharine Baetjer. "Benjamin Franklin's Daughter." Metropolitan Museum Journal 38 (2003), pp. 169–81, colorpl. 5, ill. p. 173, discusses the historical and family events leading to the execution of the companion portraits, probably in 1793; compares the copies by Rembrandt Peale and by the Sullys; suggests that given Sarah Bache's position, this portrait "must have been among the most influential English portraits in Philadelphia, and quite possibly in the United States, during the first half of the nineteenth century".

Katharine Baetjer. British Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1575–1875. New York, 2009, pp. 182–84, 186, 188, no. 90, ill. (color).

There are two lithographs, head-and-shoulders views, one by Peter Krämer and another unattributed (see Duane 1859 and The National Cyclopædia of American Biography 1892); also an engraving on wood by Henry Wolf (see Howard 1903).
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