Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Smith, John Raphael

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SMITH, JOHN RAPHAEL (1752–1812), portrait and miniature painter and mezzotint engraver, the youngest son of Thomas Smith (d. 1767) [q. v.], known as ‘Smith of Derby,’ landscape-painter, was born at Derby in 1752. He began life as an apprentice to a linendraper in his native town, but about 1767 he came to London, and, while still serving as a shopman, devoted his leisure to the practice of miniature-painting. He also attempted engraving, and his earliest plate, a portrait of Pascal Paoli, after Henry Bembridge, is dated 1769. He made rapid progress in this art, and soon gained a high position. Many of his plates from the works of Reynolds, Romney, and others, as well as from his own designs, are among the masterpieces of mezzotint engraving. His portraits after Sir Joshua Reynolds include those of Lady Catharine Pelham-Clinton, Lady Gertrude Fitzpatrick, the Hon. Mrs. Stanhope, ‘Offie’ Palmer (the ‘Girl with a Muff’), Mrs. Carnac, Mrs. Montagu, Mrs. Musters, Mademoiselle Baccelli, Madame Schindlerin, and Lady Hamilton as a Bacchante; also Philippe ‘Egalité,’ duke of Orleans; Henry Dundas, viscount Melville; William Markham, archbishop of York; Richard Robinson, archbishop of Armagh; John Deane Bourke, archbishop of Tuam and earl of Mayo; Dr. Joseph Warton; John Gawler and his sons; Master Herbert as Bacchus; and Master Crewe as Henry VIII. Other portraits by Smith are: The Gower Family, ‘Nature’ (Lady Hamilton), Mrs. Robinson (‘Perdita’), and ‘The Clavering Children,’ after George Romney; ‘The Fortune Teller,’ after the Rev. Matthew William Peters, R.A.; George IV, when prince of Wales, after Gainsborough; Sir Joseph Banks, after Benjamin West, P.R.A.; John, earl of Eldon, Mrs. Siddons in the character of ‘Zara,’ and John Philpot Curran, after Sir Thomas Lawrence; Napoleon I, after Andrea Appiani; Sir Richard Arkwright and ‘The Synnot Children,’ after Joseph Wright of Derby; the Walton family (‘The Fruit Barrow’), after Henry Walton; James Heath, A.R.A., after Lemuel Abbott; and ‘The Watercress Girl,’ after Johann Zoffany, R.A. Among the most important of his subject plates are: ‘The Calling of Samuel,’ ‘The Infant Jupiter,’ ‘The Student,’ and ‘The Snake in the Grass,’ after Sir Joshua Reynolds; ‘Ezzelino of Ravenna musing over the body of his murdered wife,’ ‘Belisarius and Parcival,’ ‘Lear and Cordelia,’ ‘The Three Witches,’ and ‘Lady Macbeth,’ after Henry Fuseli, R.A.; ‘The Cherubs,’ after William Pether; ‘Age and Infancy,’ after John Opie, R.A.; ‘Wisdom directing Beauty and Virtue to sacrifice at the Altar of Diana,’ after Richard Cosway, R.A.; ‘A Lady at Haymaking,’ ‘Palemon and Lavinia,’ ‘Cymon and Iphigenia,’ and ‘Rosalind and Celia,’ after William Lawranson; ‘Mercury inventing the Lyre,’ after James Barry, R.A.; ‘Edwin,’ from Beattie's ‘Minstrel,’ after Joseph Wright of Derby; ‘A Promenade at Carlisle House,’ 1781; and ‘Christmas Gambols’ and several others after the works of George Morland, whose boon companion he was, and whose portrait he engraved.

Smith likewise carried on an extensive business as a publisher of engravings, and employed Girtin and Turner to colour prints. Desirous of himself becoming a painter, he neglected engraving when at the zenith of his fame, and turned his attention to drawing crayon portraits, which he executed with great rapidity and success. Six of these are in the South Kensington Museum. Among others he drew small full-length portraits of Charles James Fox and of Earl Stanhope. He visited York and other provincial towns, where he found many patrons. His later works, however, were very slight, and sometimes finished in an hour. He also painted some fancy subjects in a style resembling those of Morland and of Wheatley. His works appeared at the exhibitions of the Incorporated Society of Artists, the Free Society of Artists, and the Royal Academy between 1773 and 1805.

Smith died at Doncaster, where he resided during the last three years of his life, on 2 March 1812, in his sixtieth year, and was buried in Doncaster churchyard. He possessed great artistic talent, combined with a humorous and convivial temperament, which led him much into society and often into dissipation. A bust of him was modelled by Sir Francis Chantrey, R.A., whose early talent he had encouraged. William Hilton, R.A., and Peter De Wint were among his pupils.

John Rubens Smith, his son, painted portraits in the style of his father, and exhibited at the Royal Academy between 1796 and 1811. Emma Smith, his daughter, was born about 1787. She painted water-colour drawings and miniatures, and exhibited at the Royal Academy between 1799 and 1808. She was also for a time a member of the Associated Artists in Watercolours, and had five drawings in their first exhibition in 1808.

[Julia Frankau's John Raphael Smith, his life and works, 1902; Gent. Mag. 1812, i. 488; Redgrave's Dict. of Artists of the English School, 1878; Bryan's Dict. of Painters and Engravers, ed. Graves and Armstrong, 1886–9, ii. 508; John Chaloner Smith's British Mezzotinto Portraits, 1878–83, pp. 1241–1321; Exhibition Catalogues of the Royal Academy, Incorporated Society of Artists, and Free Society of Artists, 1773–1805.]

R. E. G.