Watercolor and gouache heightened with white gouache on paper
Support: Beige(1) wove (?) paper, hinged to cream-yellow board
Image: 8.8 x 7.6 cm (3 7/16 x 3 in.); Sheet: 9.1 x 7.9 cm (3 9/16 x 3 1/8 in.); Secondary Support: 18.1 x 16 cm (7 1/8 x 6 5/16 in.)
Bequest of Mrs. A. Dean Perry 1997.80
John Smart retained hundreds of sketches which were passed down in turn to his son, granddaughter, and great-grandchildren.
The sitter’s head and shoulders face left. He smiles slightly and has light blue eyes, with his powdered hair curled above the ear and tied en queue. He wears a green jacket edged in gold with gold buttons and dons a high white collar, a waistcoat, and a frilled cravat, each highlighted with white gouache. The nature of this work as a finished
drawing rather than exclusively a preparatory sketch for a miniature on ivory is evident in the degree of finish of the sitter’s clothing, which is painted to the oval termination within a border of pale blue gouache. A Colnaghi label was removed from the verso after the work entered the museum’s collection.
Sir John Macpherson (1745–1821) was the son of a Scottish minister. His many tours of service with the East India Company were marred by corruption and scandal. He was made acting governor-general of India in 1785–86 between the resignation of Warren Hastings (1732–1818) and the succession by Lord Cornwallis (1738–1805). Macpherson
was created a baronet in 1786 when he was removed from office, returning to England shortly thereafter. He was an inveterate bachelor, popular in society for his handsomeness, charm, and facility with languages, but also known for his avarice and fraudulence.
The work is signed with Smart’s initials and dated “1787 Madras” at the lower right. Macpherson was no longer governor-general in 1787 and would have been preparing to return to England when this portrait was painted. The drawing is inscribed on the back in the artist’s hand: “a sketch of Sir John Macpherson painted at Madras, 1787, on his
passage from Bengall [sic] to England by Jno [sic] Smart.” Smart did not return to England until 1795, so the word passage must be defined as “on his journey” rather than “aboard ship.” At the time this portrait was taken, Macpherson was grappling with his premature removal from office and beginning to plot what would become many years of negotiations to regain his position or receive compensation for having lost it, though none of this emotional turmoil is visible in Smart’s portrait.
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