Portrait of Anna Maria Woolf, née Smart

c. 1785
(British, 1741–1811)
Support: Card
Framed: 9.1 x 7.8 cm (3 9/16 x 3 1/16 in.); Unframed: 6.7 x 5.4 cm (2 5/8 x 2 1/8 in.)
Location: not on view
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Did You Know?

After living in India for many years, Anna Maria was en route to England when she was forced to disembark at St. Helena to give birth to her son.


Although it is impossible to say whether or not it was always part of the artist’s process to execute a preparatory sketch prior to painting each miniature, we do know that John Smart retained many hundreds of these sketches. A group of preparatory sketches—of which this portrait is one—descended through the Smirke family after Smart’s daughter Sarah gave a sketchbook containing preparatory portrait studies to her friend Mary Smirke, sister of the celebrated Victorian architect Sydney Smirke. This book was probably broken up around 1877 when it was divided between Sydney’s daughters Mary Jemmett and Mrs. Lange, whose portions were both sold at auction in 1928.
This portrait was assigned the historically colorful but fictitious title of “Duchess Christina” at some point after memory of its true identity had been lost. Giving illustrious titles to portraits of unknown sitters was a popular strategy adopted by dealers during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, often applied to miniature portraits and, in particular, to Smart’s sketches of women. Here, the sitter’s head is turned slightly to her left. She has dark brown eyes, rosy cheeks, and long, wavy dark hair falling below her shoulders. She wears a white dress with long sleeves and a ruffled bodice, and a small lozenge-shaped pendant around her neck. She is placed inside a faintly suggested oval, and the background is unpainted. The paper backing—removed in 1993—was inscribed with “38” and “Indi,” which may suggest that the sketch was executed during Smart’s time in India. The inscription that was discovered on the back of the drawing after the paper backing was removed reads, “Mrs [or perhaps Miss] Peirce.” Although the inscription appears to be in the artist’s hand, and in the brown ink he used to annotate his preparatory sketches, its relationship to this portrait is unclear.
The sitter is probably Anna Maria, Smart’s eldest daughter by his first wife, whose name is unknown. Anna Maria (1766–1813) traveled with her father to India in 1785, sailing from England on April 19 and arriving in Madras on September 6. If the work was executed in India at the time Anna Maria accompanied her father there, the sketch may be dated to around 1785, the year they moved to the subcontinent. Anna Maria would have been around 18 years old. The fact that this portrait is of an older girl who dons a plain, modest dress and wears her hair down suggests an intimacy not found in the type of portraits Smart commonly executed of women wearing fine gowns and elaborately dressed hair.
Portrait of Anna Maria Woolf, née Smart

Portrait of Anna Maria Woolf, née Smart

c. 1785

John I Smart

(British, 1741–1811)
England, 18th century

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