Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of a Young Gentleman 

John Smart (1741-1811)

Portrait of a Young Gentleman, John Smart
Pencil and watercolour on paper
18th Century
Karin Henninger-Tavcar by 1998, Private Collection, Germany
To view portrait miniatures by John Smart currently for sale at Philip Mould & Co, please go to www.philipmould.com.

The present portrait is a fine example of Smartís work on paper and would have been painted in the early 1770s, when Smartís career was beginning to gain momentum.

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 which also saw the success of Cosway and Engleheart to name just a few. 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 of the similar scale, Cosway opted for a more virtuoso style of painting and his sitterís 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 sitterís costumes tend to be more restrained when compared to, say, the miniature of Earl Spencer by Cosway [Philip Mould Ltd] which was painted around the same time.

The 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.

Smartís attention to detail and refusal to flatter meant his clientele came largely from the affluent middle classes. The business appears to have been remarkably successful in a short time, with Smart working hard to secure large numbers of sittings.

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.
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