November 2014 - John Smart and Charles Willson Peale

John Smart at Philip Mould 
Most collectors of miniature portraits will have an opinion on who was the best artist, with many agreeing that the best British artist was John Smart. There is currently a brief opportunity to view and/or buy from a selection of fine works by him collected over many years. An opportunity to view a collection like this, especially all with the items being available for sale, is unlikely to be repeated in the foreseeable future.

As has been mentioned in the print media, see press or  http://online.flipbuilder.com/lawrence/nncx/ an exhibition ‘John Smart: A Genius Magnified’ arranged by Emma Rutherford and Philip Mould (the art dealer who appears on the popular TV programme Fake or Fortune) has opened to the public in London and can be viewed until 9th December, 2014. The exhibition showcases forty-five portrait miniatures and drawings from a single-owner collection and represents the biggest collection of miniatures by Smart to be offered on the open market for almost a century. An online version of the catalogue (without essays) can be viewed by clicking here. A price list can be viewed here, although it is highly recommended you get in touch with Emma promptly as she has been overwhelmed by the amount of interest so far. To order a hard copy of the catalogue to be sent via post, please email by clicking here.

In its nature the collection is just as important as other major collections, such as the collection of Smart's work in the Edward B Greene Collection at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Even more impressive is the Starr Collection of Miniatures in Kansas City, where there is a collection of John Smart miniature portraits which includes dated examples for every year from 1760-1810. There are printed catalogues for both these collections, which were published in 1951 and 1971, and which occasionally can be purchased via Abebooks for those interested.

Regular visitors to this site, will be aware that earlier this year the single miniature portrait below on paper of General Thomas Bruce by John Smart was purchased for this Artists and Ancestors collection. http://british-miniatures.blogspot.co.nz/2014/09/smart-john-portrait-of-general-thomas.html That was a highlight for this collector, as neither the vendor, nor the other bidders at the auction, realised the miniature was by John Smart.

American collectors will have their own opinions about the best artist who worked in America. To perhaps help enable a comparison of John Smart and Charles Willson Peale, this collector was then fortunate enough to purchase at an on-line eBay auction a miniature portrait by Charles Willson Peale. http://aminports3.blogspot.com/2014/09/peale-charles-willson-portrait-of.html Again the vendor did not realise who the artist was, but this time another bidder did realise that Peale was the artist, so there was some competition, although it was still able to be acquired for this collection at well below the normal market value. Its condition is a little less than perfect, but at an age of 250 years that is perhaps to be expected.

The two miniature portraits by Peale and Smart as depicted here, were acquired within two months of each other, and were offered for auction by vendors who did not know what they were selling. That is the best possible recommendation for collectors to study miniatures sufficiently well to be able to back their instincts when an unattributed work comes onto the market. Although on a minor (miniature!) scale, the personal thrill of making a successful purchase and attribution against expert international competition, is considerable and, even without the same degree of $$$ or £££ signs, is perhaps comparable to the reaction of those owners of major works who receive a "thumbs up" from Philip Mould when subjected to his Fake or Fortune test.

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