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Commodore Thomas Smith
Courtesy of Viscount Cobham
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
Commodore Thomas Smith
Dated 1744
Oil on canvas
209.7 x 144.2 cm
82 1/2 x 56 3/4 in.
P9
Full-length and full-size portrait to the right in a brown velvet coat with looped gold braid detailing round the buttons, ending in an elaborate knot of sequins. The sitter's coat is lined with red silk and his waistcoat and breeches are of the same material. White lace froths at his cuffs and collar. Smith wears a grey full-bottomed wig and leans on the plinth of a broken column, holding a telescope in his left hand, with legs nonchalantly crossed in a pose based on a classical figure of Mercury (Uffizi Florence) that was to become commonplace later in the century. Behind him is the sea and, in the distance, at the left, his new command, the Royal Sovereign is taking in provisions.
Birmingham City Art Gallery, Midland Art Treasures, 1934 (45); London, Cardiff and New Haven, 1982-83 (2)
Probably commissioned by the sitter after November 1744, to celebrate his appointment as Commodore; thence by descent
Signed and dated centre right on the plinth by the hand: R. Wilson / 1744
Thinly painted overall, probably on account of the size
[1] Modern label on side of frame lower right: No 129
[2] Verso u.l. : City of Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery / R. Wilson / Villa Madam [/] Lent by Lord Cobham/ 12
Thomas Smith (c.1706/7-1762) was the natural son of Sir Thomas Lyttelton, 4th Bart, and one of Wilson's most important early patrons. At the date of this painting he had been made a commodore in the royal navy, though he was later raised to the rank of admiral. As a junior lieutenant in the Gosport 43 guns, at Plymouth in 1728, Smith achieved some notoriety by forcing a French corvette to salute him and dip her pennant on departure. The incident was exaggerated by the press and Smith was removed from the navy for a few months, but earned the nickname, 'Tom of Ten Thousand'. Commander-in-Chief at Leith, Scotland, from 1745-47, he was Captain of H.M.S Bridgewater, which transferred the Jacobite Flora MacDonald from Scotland to London in 1746. By chance, as senior officer at Portsmouth in 1756-57, he served as president of Admiral John Byng's court martial. When Byng was found guilty of neglect of duty, Smith was forced to pronounce the death sentence on him, though with a strong recommendation for clemency. However, this was ignored by King George II and Byng was executed at Portsmouth.
Study for the Portrait of Admiral Thomas Smith, National Galleries of Scotland
John Faber the Younger after Richard Wilson, mezzotint, 1746 (British Museum, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection and other impressions)
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As Wilson's earliest dated portrait this is something of a tour de force. Brian Allen has pointed out that it clearly demonstrates Wilson's capacity to challenge his more fashionable contemoprary rivals, Allan Ramsay and Thomas Hudson (Solkin 1982, p. 144). The concept is clearly based on the prototype of Hogarth's Captain Coram (1740 Foundling Museum, London), though the composition has much in common with the formula of Batoni. The broken column, at the upper right, however, may be a gentle reminder of Smith's illegitimacy.
Anon A Catalogue of the Pictures at Hagley Hall, London 1900, no. 129; WGC, pp. 62, 151, pl. 2b; Sale cat., The Lyttelton Papers, Sotheby's London, 12 December 1978, p.101 (cat. 79); Solkin 1982, pp. 144-45
The eldest legitimate son of Sir Thomas Lyttelton and thus brother to Smith was Sir Richard Lyttelton (1718-1770), who bought a number of pictures from Thomas Jenkins in Rome and was portrayed there by Batoni in 1762 (Hagley Hall, Worcestershire)
Kate Lowry has noted: Glue relined. Probably grey ground. Background quite thinly painted. Face and figure more solidly painted. Face quite mask-like with clear gap between face and wig. Good rendition of gold braid and frogging of coat and silk stockings. There is some damage in the lower foreground on the paved floor, otherwise in good condition. Unglazed carved frame with palm branches, probably not contemporary with work.