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John Smart’s parents

2 December 2014

There is a splendid exhibition of the wonderful miniaturist John Smart currently on at Philip Mould in Dover Street. The exhibition is subtitled, not without justification, “A Genius Magnified”. Go and see it immediately if you haven’t already done so: it closes on 9 December.

Sadly Smart is only recorded as making one pastel, a self-portrait, in crayons, exhibited at the Society of Artists 1762, no. 103, but of course lost today, so the entry in my Dictionary of pastellists is necessarily very brief. But I will take this opportunity to magnify one tiny biographical point in an otherwise fascinating essay on the artist’s early years.

Lawrence Hendra tentatively but correctly identifies the artist’s first marriage from a brief entry in the St James’s Chronicle for June 1763, but the marriage register entry at St Stephen’s Coleman Street is worth reproducing:

Smart Howard marriage vi1763

The particular interest in this marriage to Mary Anne or Marion Howard as she seems to sign herself is of course in the sequel, when Mary Anne later runs off with William Pars and goes to Rome, where she dies of tuberculosis in 1788. Hendra cites Thomas Jones’s journal, but it’s well worth reading the whole entry for June.

But I want to pursue a different point, returning to the document itself. It’s odd that the day of the month isn’t completed (one can only infer Sunday, 19 June from the St James’s Chronicle notice); the next entry is 28 June, the preceding is in May). It is also odd that Smart’s sister should sign as “Deborah Smart” as she was already married (see below). But the signature is surely that of the miniaturist.

The register describes Smart as “of the Parish of St Anne’s Westminster”, and from this Hendra infers that he was born there. Accordingly he suggests that he was the John Smart baptised at St Anne’s 26 June 1741 to Phillip Francis and Ann Smart, of whom nothing more is known. In particular there is no indication that this John had a sister Deborah. But I think that “of the Parish of St Anne’s Westminster” just refers to the groom’s current residence rather than his place of birth.

In fact another John Smart was born 20 January 1741, baptised 24 January 1741 to a John Smart and Mary, at St Luke’s, Old Street, Finsbury.  The same parents had a Deborah Smart born 8 January 1736 and baptised 28 February 1736 at the same church. Deborah Smarts are thinner on the ground than Johns.

John Smart the elder was described as a peruke-maker at his son’s baptism, he is again recorded as such in the minutes of the parish vestry of St Clement Danes, 12 April 1748. And he must be the same John Smart of the parish of St George, Hanover Square who made his will on 3 April 1764 (proved 7 May 1764), leaving everything to Mary. We can find a glimpse of his career from this notice which appeared in the Daily Advertiser on 12 and 17 November 1744:

Smart peruke maker

In the viciously contested Westminster election in 1749, the poll book shows that he voted for Sir George Vandeput, Bt rather than the successful Lord Trentham (Granville Leveson Gower). The Westminster rate books confirm that he remained in Audley Street until 1763.

We can I think find further confirmation of this theory in Deborah’s own marriage, on 8 October 1761 at St James Clerkenwell – to a Samuel Wright (it is as Deborah Wright, widow, of William Street Blackfriars that she appears in John Smart’s 1811 will). (Eight months later (on 6 July 1762) a son, John Smart Wright, was born; nothing further is known of him, although his sister Lydia married a James Eagle in Islington in 1790 and appears in her mother’s 1822 will.) Deborah would have been 25 at the time of her marriage; her brother still a minor. And the witness to that contract, a John Smart, has a literate but slightly different signature to the artist’s to judge by the terminal t. It is possibly that of their father (but I am not a Smart expert and would be interested if other examples have this feature).

Smart Wright marriage x1761

We know very little about the other witness to the 1763 marriage, John Henry Vuagneux (the name is Swiss, presumably Huguenot), but he lived in Hoxton until c.1760. All this suggests a westwards progression for John Smart (like his father). Smart was not the only famous portraitist born to a peruke-maker: Hugh Douglas Hamilton and Perronneau are others. Perhaps they inherited something of the profession’s fastidiousness.

We can tidy up one further detail. Foskett tells us that Smart and Cosway were both apprenticed to William Shipley in September 1755. Curiously when we consult the register of duties paid on apprenticeship deeds, it turns out that indeed both were apprenticed to Shipley in 1755, both for 7 years; but Cosway’s term ran from 19 August for a premium of £2 (the duty paid on 19 September), while Smart’s term ran from 23 September (registered 13 October), with a payment of only £1. On 31 October a third pupil was registered: William Pars, who was to prove more sympathetic to Mrs Smart. His 7 year term, from 11 October, carried a much more onerous premium of £14.

Smart apprenticeship

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From → Art history

5 Comments
  1. Further to the list of sons of wig makers, we can add Sir Allan Ramsay. Although his father is better known as poet and book seller, he started out as a peruke maker.

  2. Thanks. How curious that these are all portraitists for whom I have a particular fondness. I can add another name: Ozias Humphry, whose father was a peruke-maker and mercer in Honiton. He was an almost exact contemporary of Smart.

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  1. Perronneau: rectification d’erreur | Neil Jeffares

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