Historical Portraits Picture Archive

A portrait miniature of William Smith wearing a brown doublet with a broad blue embroidered sash and white ruff, holding a leading staff, a coat of arms to sinister 1808

George Perfect Harding 

A portrait miniature of William Smith wearing a brown doublet with a broad blue embroidered sash and white ruff, holding a leading staff, a coat of arms to sinister, George Perfect Harding
Gouache on Vellum
19th Century
Rectangular, 7 9/32 x 5 25/64 in., (18.5 x 13.7cm)
Private collection, UK
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This meticulously detailed portrait of a sixteenth-century gentleman by the nineteenth-century miniaturist George Perfect Harding, displays the armorial bearings of the Smith (or Smyth) family, of Withcote in the County of Leicestershire. This painting was undoubtedly copied by Harding in 1808 from an original portrait in a private collection, dated prior to 1600.

The original painting bears an incorrect inscription identifying the sitter as Sir John Smith of Skilts (1616-1644) who died at the age of twenty-eight during the English Civil War and the man depicted in this painting is almost certainly in his forties.

The cadency mark on the coat of arms, usually a symbol to differentiate between individuals in an otherwise identical coat of arms, could be a fleur de lys, indicative of the sixth son of a family and therefore identifying this individual as William Smith. William Smith was the sixth son of John Smith (d.1545), of Withcote in the County of Leicestershire and Dorothy Cave, daughter of Richard Cave, of Stanford in the County of Northamptonshire. Unfortunately not a lot is known about William Smith other than that he was living in 1558 and drowned at a later date. This portrait of Smith, with a sword girt and leading staff, signifies that he was a military man of some standing and with so much naval activity during this period, such as the Spanish Armada, it is possible that William Smith drowned during conflict.

A second version of this portrait by Harding exists and was part of the Laleham House collection belonging to the 5th Earl of Lucan, before it was sold by Sotheby’s in 1974. This version, inscribed G P Harding fecit, is framed bearing the inscription Sir John Smith, Knt. It is most probable that Harding believed he was painting Sir John Smith, a Royalist supporter best known for recapturing the Royal Standard at the Battle of Edgehill, rather than William Smith of whom little is known.

George Perfect Harding practiced miniature-painting and exhibited at the Royal Academy between 1802 and 1840. Much influenced by his father Silvester Harding, he focused on making water-colour copies of historical paintings.
Harding travelled the United Kingdom copying oil portraits and recording their history; some of which were engraved in historical publications. Harding was a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries but withdrew in 1847. He married Mary Ann, his first wife, late in life and had a large family which consequently led to Harding having to sell his accumulated works. He exhibited a self-portrait at the R.A., in 1813; this was probably the one which was engraved by J. Brown, a copy of which is in the British Museum. He died at Hercules Buildings, Lambeth, 23rd December 1853 and left a family by his second wife, Charlotte Brown.

Many of George Perfect Harding’s works are in public collections including the National Portrait Gallery and British Museum, National Museum of Wales, Scottish National Portrait Gallery and Bath City Art Gallery.
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