Historical Portraits Picture Archive

A portrait miniature of a Gentleman with powdered hair en queue and tied with a black ribbon, wearing a white stock and crimson velvet jacket & waistcoat 1766

John Smart (1741-1811)

A portrait miniature of a Gentleman with powdered hair en queue and tied with a black ribbon, wearing a white stock and crimson velvet jacket & waistcoat, John Smart
Watercolour on ivory
18th Century
Oval, 1.3 inches, (33mm) high
Sothebyís, London, 1976 Private Collection
Gold frame with blue glass border split pearl border, the reverse also with blue glass and central compartment of woven hair

The present work is a fine example from Smartís early years as a miniaturist. Painted when he was in his early twenties the clarity of colour and attention to detail, which would characterise his later working practice, is already evident here.

In 1755, at the age of thirteen, Smart began to enter pencil and chalk drawings for prizes at the Society of Arts. After coming second to Richard Cosway in the first competition he went on to secure first prize in the following three. The eighteenth century was a highly prosperous period for the miniature painter, and witnessed the success of Cosway and Engleheart to name just two. During the 1760s, when the present miniature was painted, Smart was a rival to the equally young Richard Cosway but his miniatures are markedly different; although both artists were painting portraits on a similar scale, Cosway opted for a more virtuoso style of painting, which he executed with a lightness of touch. Smart, however, embraced a more delicate, meticulous style as seen in the present work and his sitterís costumes tend to be more restrained when compared to, for example, the miniature of Earl Spencer by Cosway [Philip Mould Ltd] which was painted around the same time.

These early years provided Smart with the necessary confidence, contacts and drive, and in 1765 he was elected Fellow Royal Society of Artists (FSA), becoming director in 1772, Vice-President in 1777 and finally President in 1778, a position he held until the societyís liquidation.

By 1766, the date of this miniature, Smart had been working as a professional artist for six years, practicing from premises in Dean Street, Soho, London. The business appears to have been remarkably successful in a short time, with Smart working hard to secure large numbers of sittings. His confidence and desire for recognition can be gauged by his initials appearing on even his earliest works, such as on this miniature, followed by a date.

Smartís continued to gain much fame for his miniatures, moving to India in 1785 to secure new, wealthy clients. He came back to London in 1795 and quickly re-established himself as one of the most talented miniaturists in the country, exhibiting many works at the Royal Academy. He died after a short illness at his home in Russell Place, Fitzroy Square, London on the 1st May 1811.
Philip Mould Ltd, 18-19 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5LU.Copyright Philip Mould Ltd.