Historical Portraits Picture Archive

A portrait miniature of a young Girl, wearing blue dress held with a brooch clasp and white shawl, her upswept hair plaited 

John Smart (1741-1811)

A portrait miniature of a young Girl, wearing blue dress held with a brooch clasp and white shawl, her upswept hair plaited, John Smart
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Watercolour on ivory
18th Century
Oval, 1 5/8 in (34mm) high
 
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This portrait of a young girl is one of the finest examples from Smartís early years as a miniaturist. Painted when he was in his late teens, the clarity of colour and attention to detail, which would characterise his later working practice, is all too evident here.

In 1755, at the age of thirteen, Smart began to enter pencil and chalk drawings for prizes at the Society of Arts. After coming second to Richard Cosway in the first competition he went on to secure first prize in the following three. In 1761, the date of this miniature, Smart had been working as a professional artist for one year, practicing from premises in Dean Street, Soho, London. At this stage in his career he was a rival to the equally young Richard Cosway but his miniatures are markedly different. His attention to detail and refusal to flatter meant his clientele came largely from the affluent middle classes. The business appears to have been remarkably successful in a short time, with Smart working hard to secure large numbers of sittings. His confidence and desire for recognition can be gauged by his initials appearing on even his earliest works, such as on this miniature, followed by a date.

Smartís continued to gain much fame for his miniatures, moving to India in 1785 to secure new, wealthy clients. He came back to London in 1795 and quickly re-established himself as one of the most talented miniaturists in the country, exhibiting many works at the Royal Academy. He died after a short illness at his home in Russell Place, Fitzroy Square, London on the 1st May 1811.

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