A watercolor on organic wafer, painted by John Smart, and initialed lower left, along with the date of 1797. The sitter is a young woman with brown curls and eyes. She is attired in a green and blue feathered cap, a white gown with lace on the collar, and a green sash.
The brushwork is impeccable, the texture and blush of the skin, the details of the eyes, the clarity of each hair, and the overall luminescence of this painting are stunning.
Even when compared to the vast majority of Smart's other works, this piece is extraordinary.
The condition of this masterpiece is excellent, with no chips, cracks, paint loss, bowing, or restoration. It is encircled with a thin gold band, and has metal backing. The size is 3 3/4" by 3".
NOTES: 1. John Smart (1740-1811) was born in Norfolk, England, and was a contemporary of Richard Cosway, George Engleheart, William Wood, and Richard Crosse. A rivalry with Cosway started in 1755 when Smart placed second to Cosway in an arts competition. He exhibited at the Society of Artists, in London, from 1762 onward, became a Fellow in 1765, and then its president in 1778. He went to India in 1788, and completed commission work for a number of notables. He returned to England, settled down in London in 1795, and died there in 1811.
Smart's work is entirely different from that of Cosway in its coloring, with the flesh tints elaborated with much subtlety and modelled in exquisite fashion. He possessed a great knowledge of anatomy, and his portraits are drawn with greater anatomical accuracy and possess more distinction than those of any miniature painter of his time.
Philip Mould, an author and preeminent expert on miniature portraiture, has written "Smart was concerned with an almost unnatural realism. Under magnification, one can make out her individually painted eyelashes... His miniatures were as close as his patrons would get to photography, decades away from its invention. His use of bright, jewel-like colours looks more to portrait enamels than to the grey-blue tones favoured by Cosway and Engleheart." Considered by all experts as one of the best miniaturists of his period, many have stated that he is the finest.
The painting offered here exemplifies all of Smart's exceptional qualities.
2. Acquired directly from the owner, this miniature has been in a private collection for over 45 years, and has not been seen or offered during that time.
3. Smart's miniatures bring substantial prices at auction, reaching as high as $235,000. Of approximately 150 auction records, spanning a period from 2005 until the present, the painting in the third photo is most similar to the one offered here in terms of dating and subject, though of lesser quality. In 2012 it sold at Christie's London for $98,000.