Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait miniature of a Lady, wearing fur-bordered mauve dress with embroidered pointed lace collar, a pearl-bordered yellow bodice with mauve bow, her pink-powdered hair worn curled and decorated with an ostrich feather , 1785

John Smart (1741-1811)

Portrait miniature of a Lady, wearing fur-bordered mauve dress with embroidered pointed lace collar, a pearl-bordered yellow bodice with mauve bow, her pink-powdered hair worn curled and decorated with an ostrich feather, John Smart
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Watercolour on ivory
18th Century
Oval, 54mm (2 1/8 in.) high
 
Provenance:
S.J.Philips, London, 1932; The Private Museum and Private Collection of the Late W.J.R. Dreesman, Esq, Amsterdam, who sold; Frank Muller & Co, 22-25 March 1960, lot.540 (5,000 Dutch Guilders); Sothebyís, London, 20 July 1964, lot 56 (bt. Judson £480); Karin Henninger-Tavcar, 1994; Private Collection, Germany.
Exhibited:
Christieís, London, Art Treasures Exhibition, 1932, no.387, lent by S.J.Phillips.
Silver-gilt frame with diamond border.


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This superb portrait was painted in the year that Smart departed England for India. He left on 19 April 1785, arriving in Madras in early September. Cat. 24, also painted in 1785, shows the ĎIí for India included in all subsequent commissions during his time there, so it can be assumed that this portrait was painted prior to his voyage. This portrait is a demonstration of Smartís prowess at the height of his artistic powers. Although the move to India was a risk for any artist in the eighteenth century, Smart must have left England behind with a confidence that he would continue what had already been a glittering career.

As seen here, Smartís talents partially lay in the almost obsessive pictorial description of his sitterís clothing, every hair of the fur trim and even the shadow of the lace border have been depicted in this miniature. Unusually for Smart, this portrait is somewhat erotically-tinged, the sapphire brooch on the sitterís dress placed in a suggestive position.
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