Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait drawing of Captain George Anthony Tonyn (d.1770) 

John Smart (1741-1811)

Portrait drawing of Captain George Anthony Tonyn (d.1770), John Smart
Pencil and watercolour on paper
Rectangular, 47 x 37mm (1 7/8 x 1 7/8 in.)
The artist; His widow Mary Morton; By family descent to William Henry Bose Esq., whom sold; Christies, London, 15 February 1937, Lot 5 (with three other works); Bought from above by Spink & Son (£21); Hans Berger Collection, Buffalo, USA; Karin Henninger-Tavcar, 2002; Private Collection, Germany.
Foskett, 1964, p.82.
This drawing has survived in remarkably good condition and is a fine example of Smart’s early work on paper.

Tonyn’s will was written in 1755 whilst serving on the Port Mohun (perhaps just prior to her departure to Virginia that year), giving a good indication of when his active service began. We also know that Tonyn was then promoted to Lieutenant in 1756, and, given that the majority of young midshipmen would pass their lieutenancy exams prior to their twentieth birthday, it is perhaps reasonable to suggest Tonyn was born around 1736-40.

Tonyn was promoted to Commander in 1757 and the following year to Captain, serving on the Fowey where he remained until 1761. A report from the Admiralty Office in January 1762 provides the only contemporary anecdote from Tonyn’s career during this period; it describes how, whilst commanding officer of the Brune, Tonyn was sent to Lisbon with dispatches only for the ship to be mistaken by a French privateer for a merchant vessel. Tonyn responded by disabling her through cannon fire, although chose to proceed with the favourable wind as opposed to taking his prize and jeopardising his initial aim.[1] Following the end of the Seven Years War (1756-63) Tonyn was serving on board the guard ship San Antonio which patrolled the area surrounding Portsmouth.

Tonyn died on 17th October 1770 and although his cause of death is unknown, an announcement in the Public Advertiser states that his ship had been ‘very unhealthy’, resulting in the death of nearly forty men on its return voyage to Spithead from Jamaica.[2]

Daphne Foskett in her 1964 monograph on Smart lists a ‘Captain Anthony Tonyn, R.N. dated c.1767’ and it is unclear whether this entry relates to the present preparatory drawing or a finished portrait miniature of the same sitter.[3] An inscription on the reverse of the present work written by Arthur Jaffe, the collector and authority on Smart, suggests it was painted very early in Smart’s career c.1758-61, although this can be ruled out on stylistic grounds and was more likely painted in the mid to late 1760s.[4]

[1] General Evening Post, London, 12 January 1762.
[2] Public Advertiser, London, 30 October 1770.
[3] Foskett, 1964, p.74.
[4] For an example of Smart’s early style see portraits of Mr and Mrs Yates in Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas [F65-41/3, F65-41/2] dated 1762 and 1761 respectively.
Philip Mould Ltd, 18-19 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5LU.Copyright Philip Mould Ltd.