Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portait miniature of a naval Captain in gold-bordered naval uniform with white facings and cravat, powdered hair en queue 

John Smart (1741-1811)

Portait miniature of a naval Captain in gold-bordered naval uniform with white facings and cravat, powdered hair en queue, John Smart
Watercolour on ivory
18th Century
Oval, 1Ĺ inches, 38 mm high
Christie's, London, 22 March 1988, lot 336 (as Richard Lord Howe). English Private Collection.
Silver-gilt brooch frame with rose-cut diamond surround and engraved on reverse 'Richard Lord Howe Admiral of the Fleet'.

In terms of eighteenth century portrait miniature painters John Smart remains one of the most coveted and desired. The eighteenth century was a highly prosperous period for the miniature painter and when compared with his contemporaries such as Cosway or Engleheart, Smartís style feels a lot more restrained and less flouncy then his peers. He therefore appealed to a different set of patrons who cared less for swagger and more for delicacy and clarity of features.

In 1755, at the age of thirteen, Smart began to enter pencil and chalk drawings for prizes at the Society of Arts. Smart established himself in the early 1760ís and these 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.

In 1785 Smart travelled to India, settling in Madras where he experienced an eager appetite for sittings amongst the East India Company officials as well as with the more wealthy natives. Smartís Indian period miniatures are distinguishable by the increased reflection of light on his sitterís faces, which give them a more exotic feel and signify the warmer climate in which he was working.

The present work was painted the year following his arrival, in 1786, and depicts an as of yet unidentified Naval captain, at one point thought to be Lord Howe, Admiral of the Fleet. The attention to detail in this work is quite astonishing, in particular the fine blue highlighting of the sitterís right colour which although slight, effectively creates perspective by projecting the sitter forward from the pale backdrop.

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