Philadelphia Museum of Art Custom Prints



View Cart
Shop Main Online Store

About the Artwork

This painting shows an imagined version of a real event, when Benjamin Franklin demonstrated that lightning is a form of electricity in 1752. Painted by Benjamin West around 1816, it shows Franklin holding his clenched fist toward a metal key that hangs from a kite string. A spark of electricity flows between them. Storm clouds rage, the wind blows Franklin’s gray hair and red robe, and a bolt of lightning illuminates the sky. Two cherubs play with jars that hold electric current, and three more help with the kite.

Franklin was endlessly curious about the world around him. He was fascinated by weather and began conducting experiments with electricity in 1746. He thought lightning might discharge electricity to high objects, such as trees and church spires, which caused fire. To test the theory, he went outside during a storm and flew a kite with a thin metal rod attached to the top. He hung a metal key from its hemp string, then tied a silk ribbon to the end for insulation. Indeed, when he reached his hand up to the metal key, he felt a spark of electricity. His theory was correct! With this information, Franklin invented the lightning rod, which protected buildings from fire by grounding electricity from lightning. We still use this principle today to protect homes and buildings.

West painted this picture twenty-six years after Franklin’s death and changed several details of the story. The dramatic setting and angelic assistants suggest that Franklin was godlike. He was 46 at the time of the experiment, but West shows him as an older man, perhaps because this is how he was most recognizable to the public.

The artist, who was friends with Franklin, painted this small portrait in preparation for a larger one, intended to be placed at Pennsylvania Hospital, which Franklin founded. Although the final painting was not made, this version captures Franklin’s ambition, intelligence, and determination.

Popular Images

About Our Prints

Philadelphia Museum of Art Custom Prints offers exclusive custom reproductions of artworks in the collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Hand-made in the USA using gallery-quality materials, we create prints as true to the original work as possible, using strict color management protocols and state-of-the-art printing technology.
Many of the works offered through this store are exclusive and not available anywhere else. In addition, new works are continually added to the offering so make sure to come back and see the new releases.
You have found the work that speaks to you. Now what? Using our innovative custom framing tool you can preview exactly what your finished and framed art will look like. We offer many different moulding styles so there is sure to be a match for any type of decor.

Member Discounts

As always, members will receive their discount for all transactions processed through our Custom Prints store. Simply enter your Member ID during the checkout process and your discount will be applied.