Portrait of Mr. Gambier

c. 1776
(British, 1741–1811)
Support: Card
Framed: 7.9 x 6.9 cm (3 1/8 x 2 11/16 in.); Unframed: 5.8 x 2.8 cm (2 5/16 x 1 1/8 in.)
Location: not on view
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Did You Know?

Sketches helped John Smart work out the particulars of a portrait before commencing the miniature on ivory; they were useful in the event that a duplicate might later be required.


Although it is impossible to say if 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.
G. C. Williamson was the first to suggest that Smart’s sketches were well known and that they were preparatory studies for the painted miniatures. Williamson listed the names of sitters from the sketches known to him at the time, and they include Mr. Fitzherbert, the identification formerly given to the sitter in this portrait. Here, the sitter’s head and shoulders are facing left. He has brown eyes and wears his powdered hair en queue. His coat has a narrow collar, under which he wears a high stock collar and frilled vest. The color of his attire is not suggested, and the background remains unpainted. Though long catalogued as Mr. Fitzherbert, the portrait was likely mistakenly designated as such at a later date. There has been confusion regarding several miniatures called Mr. Fitzherbert, which may or may not be related. There was a sketch of a different Mr. Fitzherbert in the Jemmett sale of February 29, 1928; another in the Burton-Jones collection by the 1940s; and a miniature of a Mr. Fitzherbert portrayed nearly full face and dated 1771 was sold at Sotheby’s, London, on August 1, 1934 (lot 73). The present location of these unpublished miniatures is unknown, as is their credibility as portraits of the Mr. Fitzherbert that Smart is known to have painted.
When the paper backing of the Cleveland miniature was removed in 1993, the name Gambier was discovered inscribed in graphite and pen on the back. This miniature relates to a portrait of a man on ivory dated 1774, formerly in the Ashcroft collection and at one time on loan to the Victoria and Albert Museum. It was sold at Sotheby’s, London, on May 7,1946 (lot 61) and catalogued as a “miniature of a young man, by John Smart, signed and dated, head and shoulders three-quarters sinister, gaze directed at spectator, fair hair en queue, in white cravat, frilled vest and rich red coat, 1 3/8 in.” The size of the portraits correspond, though the ivory miniature represents less of the figure than is seen in the sketch and is therefore smaller. While the color red for the coat is not indicated in the sketch, Smart often left the dress of his male sitters plain in preparatory sketches. Thus, this currently unlocated miniature on ivory can be identified as Mr. Gambier. Research into the identity of this gentleman is ongoing.
Portrait of Mr. Gambier

Portrait of Mr. Gambier

c. 1776

John I Smart

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

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