Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait drawing of a Lady, traditionally identified as Elizabeth Voisey c.1770s

John Smart (1741-1811)

Portrait drawing of a Lady, traditionally identified as Elizabeth Voisey, John Smart
Pencil and watercolour on paper
18th Century
The artist; Mary Morton, the artist’s wife; Probably By family descent to Mrs. Dyer whom sold; Christies, London, 26 November 1937; H.E.Backer, London; Gretta S. Heckett, Pittsburgh; Christies, London, 10 July 1991, lot.141 as ‘possibly Miss Elizabeth Voisey’; Karin Henninger-Tavcar, 1997; Private Collection, Germany.
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Little can be gleaned about the life of this sitter - who is traditionally identified as ‘Elizabeth Voisey’ - although the noted absence of this family name from any period documents such as baptism records or printed press, may suggest it was originally spelt differently. Curiously, parish records for the London borough of Lambeth state a family by the name of ‘Vezey’, who had a daughter named Elizabeth who was baptized in June 1750, although we can only speculate as to the relevance of this record to our sitter.

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 restrained.
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