Historical Portraits Picture Archive

A portrait miniature of a Gentleman wearing a pale blue coat, white waistcoat, frilled chemise and stock, his powdered wig worn en queue and tied with a black ribbon bow Gold frame bordered with seed pearls. Signed on the obverse and dated ‘JS/1786’

John Smart (1741-1811)

A portrait miniature of a Gentleman wearing a pale blue coat, white waistcoat, frilled chemise and stock, his powdered wig worn en queue and tied with a black ribbon bow, John Smart
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Watercolour on ivory
18th Century
Oval, 1 7/16 inches, 3.7cm high
 
Provenance:
Christies, London, 16th June 1964, lot.147; Christies, London, 11th May 1994, lot.55.
John Smart was arguably the greatest portrait miniature painter of the mid-late eighteenth century. In terms of both style and characterization he was wholeheartedly original and his importance can hardly be overstated.
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. 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 society’s liquidation.
The eighteenth century was a highly prosperous period for the miniature painter which also saw the success of Cosway and Engleheart to name just a few. Unlike his main competitors who chose to paint their subjects with exaggerated flair and swagger, Smart was more restrained and his work more sensitive in approach. So delicate in fact was Smart’s style by the time the present work was painted that his brushstrokes are barely visible to the naked eye, which give his sitter’s a uniquely smooth and humanistic appearance in their faces.
The present work was painted whilst Smart was working in India, arriving in Madras in 1785 and staying for ten years painting both the natives and the prosperous officials of the East India Company. Smart’s Indian period miniatures are distinguishable by the increased reflection of light on his sitter’s faces, which give them a more exotic feel and signify the warmer climate in which he was working.
Philip Mould Ltd, 18-19 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5LU.Copyright Philip Mould Ltd.