Watercolor over traces of black chalk, with metallic gold paint on laid paper
Support: Cream(3) modern laid paper
Sheet: 16.3 x 15.3 cm (6 7/16 x 6 in.); Unframed: 19.6 x 15.3 cm (7 11/16 x 6 in.)
Bequest of Mrs. A. Dean Perry 1997.79
In 1784 it was written that "Captain James West, had the just reputation of being a first-rate mariner, a well-informed, and thoroughly practical man of business, and in every way worthy of confidential intimacy."
Smart painted Captain West’s head in profile, turned to the right. His powdered hair is worn en queue with curls above his ears and white powder on his shoulders. He has long eyelashes, parted lips, and a grayish cast to his skin tone, particularly over his beard. West dons a blue coat with gold buttonholes embroidered in gold and a white waistcoat, high collar, and cravat tied in a small bow. This work is a finished drawing by Smart, evidenced in part by its larger size and by the fact that the painting of the sitter’s clothing is complete and the bust is placed within an elaborate border comprised of blue, metallic gold, and gray lines. This finished quality does not preclude the possibility that the drawing may also have functioned as a preparatory sketch for a miniature on ivory, which has not been located.
Captain James West sailed the Dutton Indiaman from England to Madras, India, on several occasions, including Smart’s voyage in 1785. At least one of the sons of British judge Sir Elijah Impey was traveling with Smart on his journey to India and had his portrait taken by the artist. Another of Impey’s sons wrote of an earlier return passage to England made with Captain West in 1784, shedding light on the sea captain’s character and disposition. Impey’s account conveys not only West’s personality but the atmosphere that prevailed on the ship over which the captain presided and on which Smart traveled and worked.
As indicated by an inscription in the artist’s hand, this portrait was painted by Smart while he was aboard the Dutton en route to Madras and probably retained by the artist as a memento. In addition to the portrait of “Master Impey,” Smart is known to have taken the likeness of other figures while aboard the Dutton, including the quartermaster “Baker” and a French ship called the Consalateur, which was intercepted by the Dutton while sailing to India. The current location of both works is unknown.
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