Graphite and wash on laid paper in a modern gold frame
Framed: 6.2 x 5.3 cm (2 7/16 x 2 1/16 in.); Unframed: 5.8 x 4.8 cm (2 5/16 x 1 7/8 in.)
The Edward B. Greene Collection 1942.1155
Sketches helped John Smart work out the particulars of a portrait before commencing the miniature on ivory, and 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.
Compared to his contemporaries George Engleheart (1752–1829) and Andrew Plimer (1763–1837), whose female sitters were often painted in similar simple white gowns, Smart often lavished more attention on the costumes in his portraits of women, whose dresses incorporated colored silks, printed fabrics, and luxury trimmings like lace and fur, as seen in this portrait. Mrs. Bailey wears a violet surcoat trimmed with fur, worn over a cream-colored gown trimmed with a border of alternating pearls and blue stones and two vertical rows of pearls with one large pearl between them. Her brown hair is dressed high with ringlets descending down her neck and over her shoulders. The coiffure is ornamented with a strand of pearls and two ostrich plumes. The case is modern, and there is a brownish cast to what was originally pale, cream-colored paper—the result of light exposure changing the color over time. Smart’s preparatory sketches were compiled in books but once removed were often grouped in frames or placed in lockets such as this one.
This portrait was part of the Smirke collection owned by Mary Jemmett, who sold it at Christie’s, London, on February 29, 1928. Lot 61 for this sale is described as “Mrs. Bailey, wearing pale mauve and white dress, her hair dressed high and trimmed with feathers.” The sitter, Mrs. Nathaniel Bailey (née Lamack), of Clapham, married the member of Parliament for Abingdon on March 18, 1773. Her husband was of sufficient means and is recorded in 1775 as having performed his annual distribution of £100 of bread and meat to the poor of his borough. Little else is known about this sitter.
This drawing was a preparatory study for a portrait on ivory, signed and dated 1776, and measuring 2 inches high. The ivory miniature was formerly in the Ashcroft collection and was sold at Sotheby’s, London, in May 1946 to Arthur Jaffé, having previously been on loan to the Victoria and Albert Museum from 1924 to 1939. In this sale the miniature is described as “An Attractive Miniature of a Lady, by John Smart, signed and dated 1776, head and gaze three-quarters dexter, a white feather and pearls in her high piled chestnut hair, ringlets falling to the shoulders, wearing a pearl and emerald bordered low-cut cream dress and fur trimmed lavender jacket.” It most recently sold at Christie’s, London, in 2003. This portrait miniature is identical to the preparatory sketch here, both of which describe the sitter as wearing a faintly violet costume, though this color is no longer discernible in the sketch. The current location of the miniature on ivory is unknown.
Edward Greene donated this and nine other preparatory studies by Smart to the Cleveland Museum of Art in 1941 and 1942. This sketch was acquired by Greene from Leopold Davis for around $260 in 1930. Although this portrait was probably part of the same sketchbook as the other nine purchased by Greene, Davis did not indicate whether or not this was indeed the case. The majority of these sketches were in a compromised condition, with fading and foxing especially prevalent.
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