Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait miniature of a Lady of the Darrell family, probably Clarissa Darrell (d.1812) 1785

John Smart (1741-1811)

Portrait miniature of a Lady of the Darrell family, probably Clarissa Darrell (d.1812), John Smart
Watercolour on ivory
18th Century
Oval, 1 5/84.2cm high
Harry Seal Esq, Ullesthorpe House, Rugby, until sold; Christies, London, 16th Feb 1949, lot.3. Private Collection, UK. J & B Harden Ltd; Private Collection, USA.
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Portrait miniature of a Lady of the Darrell family, probably Clarissa Darrell (d.1812), wearing a pink dress with high frilled white collar, sleeves slashed to reveal white, her hair worn up with a plait and ostrich feathers.

At the age of thirteen Smart began to enter pencil and chalk drawings for prizes at the Society of Arts, and despite coming second to Richard Cosway in the first competition, Smart persevered and went on to secure first prize in the following three. During the second half of the eighteenth century the demand for portrait miniatures increased rapidly and there soon emerged a number of highly talented, yet entirely individual artists whose work ‘in little’ became just as influential in defining an era as their larger counterparts produced by the likes of Sir Thomas Lawrence.

In direct competition to Smart was Richard Cosway (1742-1821), who opted for a more virtuoso style of painting and whose sitter’s tend to have a more overt sense of swagger about them.
Smart however embraced a more delicate, meticulous style as seen in the present work and his sitter’s costumes tend to be more refined.

The identity of the sitter in the present portrait has caused some confusion, having been identified as a ‘Miss Darrell’ in 1949 but then as ‘Miss Amelia Darrell’ more recently. When sold in 1949 it was accompanied by a portrait of another, younger ‘Miss Darrell’ dated 1785, and in the absence of any Christian names, little effort was made to reach a conclusion as to their true identity. Recent research however suggests that the present sitter is almost certainly Clarissa Darrell (d.1812), eldest daughter of Sir Lionel Darrell, 1st Baronet of Ancaster House, Surrey, who was Chairman of the Court of Directors of the East India Company. The sitter in the other miniature was therefor most likely Clarissa’s younger sister Florentia Elizabeth Darell (b.1777) who would have been about eight years old when she sat for her portrait, perfectly fitting with the apparent age of the young girl. Given that the Darrell sisters’ father held a senior position in the East India Company, it is perhaps hardly surprising that in 1785 (the year after the present work was painted and the same year the younger sister was painted), Smart was granted his much desired permission to travel to India and establish a practice.

An interesting comparison can also be made with a portrait by Smart of the Hon. Louisa Pitt (later Beckford) (1754-91) dated 1782, in which Smart uses the same composition and attire as the present work, albeit with Pitt wearing a blue dress and without the high lace collar - which must, therefore, have been a recent fashion worth including when Darrell sat for the present portrait three years later.
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