Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait miniature of a Young Girl from the Taylor family, wearing a white dress with lace collar, her hair worn down 1796

John Smart (1741-1811)

Portrait miniature of a Young Girl from the Taylor family, wearing a white dress with lace collar, her hair worn down, John Smart
18th Century
Oval, 27mm (1 1/16 in.) high
Karin Henninger-Tavcar, 1995; Private Collection, Germany.
Converted ring setting with brooch pin on reverse set diamonds around the edge.

This work is a reduced-scale version of the miniature in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas [F65-41/34], and was originally set into a ring. Although the sitter in the Kansas miniature is unidentified, the inscription on the reverse of the present work suggests the young girl is a member of the Taylor family, and is possibly a daughter of either James Taylor or George Taylor. The Kansas miniature is dated 1793 therefore we know that Smart first painted this young girl towards the end of his time in India, and produced this more portable likeness either at the same time or not long after.
James Taylor arrived in India in 1764 and worked as a clerk (or ‘writer’) whose job it was to transcribe day-to-day details and events for the attention of the Company directors back in London. By 1776 James was a junior merchant and by 1790, a senior merchant. Three years earlier in July 1787 George arrived, and his title is recorded as a ‘Prothonotary and Register’ (a chief clerk within a court of law). It was no doubt through James that George attained his position, and it is well recorded that the East India Company favoured younger brothers and nephews of men who had done them service in the past.[1]

It is quite difficult to establish the relationship between this young girl and the Taylor brothers, but she was almost certainly a daughter of one of the brothers rather than a younger sister. George Taylor would perhaps be the most likely candidate given that in 1792, the year before this portrait-type was painted, James was suspended from his post following accusations of corruption from Lord Cornwallis and returned to England. Although it is possible that she was the daughter of James, it seems unlikely that she would have stayed in India following his return to England, unless of course he had intended to return soon.

[1] H.D.Love, Vestiges of Old Madras, 1640-1800: traced from the East India Company’s records preserved at Fort St.George and the India Office, and from other sources, London, 1913, Vol.3, p.136.

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