Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait miniature of Joseph Reinagle, wearing cream coat with gold buttons, matching waistcoat, white lace cravat and powdered wig worn en queue, 1767 

John Smart (1741-1811)

Portrait miniature of Joseph Reinagle, wearing cream coat with gold buttons, matching waistcoat, white lace cravat and powdered wig worn en queue, 1767, John Smart
Watercolour on ivory
18th Century
Oval, 36mm, (1 3/8ins.) high
Sotheby's, 22 February 1971, lot 68 English Private Collection.
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John Smart was one of the most distinguished portrait miniature painters of the Eighteenth Century, renowned for his clarity of portrayal and delicacy of handling.

In 1755, at the age of just 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. Smart established his practice in 1760 from premises in Dean Street, Soho, and at this stage in his career was a rival to the equally young Richard Cosway but his miniatures are markedly different. His attention to detail and refusal to flatter meant his clientele came largely from the more conservative echelon of the affluent middle class. His practice appears to have been remarkably successful in a short time, with Smart securing a 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.

Smart 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.

The present work is an early example from the beginning of Smartís career and highly important in the understanding of his technical development as a painter. In Smartís very early works, i.e.1760-5 we see a preference for blue shading in his faces although by this point, as proven here, he appears to have ceased that technique. We also see here Smartís improved understanding of anatomy and whereas in his earlier works sometimes sense an uneasiness with his treatment of the eyes, here we see those infamously difficult features mastered.

Joseph Reinagle was Hungarian by birth and educated in Vienna at a German university where he chose musical studies over the expected route of theology. He became a trumpeter at the Court of the Empress Maria Theresa before leaving for Scotland where he married Annie Laurie, moving to Dover in 1749 and then Portsmouth. Reinagle had five children, three becoming musicians and two choosing painting as a career path; Philip Reinagle perhaps being the best known [1]. In 1760 Reinagle became a paid professional with the Edinburgh Musical Society and later held the post of trumpeter to King George III although stationed in Scotland, which he fulfilled at ceremonial events. Reinagle began receiving a salary for this role in 1761 and is last noted to have received a wage in 1785, the present work therefore perhaps being painted whilst Reinagle was visiting the court in London.

1. Alexander, Joseph Jr. and Hugh became musicians. Philip and Anna Maria Theresa (named after the empress) were painters.
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