Admiral Thomas Smith

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Admiral Thomas Smith
Admiral Thomas Smith
Admiral Thomas Smith
National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. Greenwich Hospital Collection
title=Credit line
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
Admiral Thomas Smith
c.1744 (undated)
Oil on canvas
Metric: 126 x 102 cm
Imperial: 49 5/8 x 40 1/8 in.
Accession Number
BHC 3032
Wilson Online Reference
A three-quarter length portrait to the right in a brown velvet coat with grey highlights on the shoulder, 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. There are white lace froths at the cuffs and collar. Smith wears a grey full-bottomed wig and leans on the plinth of a squarely broken column, holding an extended telescope in his left hand. Behind him is the sea and, in the distance, a ship taking in provisions with three others further out, together indicating the success of his maritime and mercantile career.
London 1925 (60); Manchester 1925 (57); London 1934 (231); Sea of Faces, National Maritime Museum 2011
Presented 1839 to Greenwich Hospital by Admiral of the Fleet Sir George Martin (1764-1847) and minuted by the Greenwich Hospital Board on 14 March 1839; transferred from the Naval Gallery, Greenwich Hospital to the National Maritime Museum, 23 April 1936.
Unsigned, undated, no inscription
Techniques and materials
Painted on a medium fine tabby weave canvas. Cream coloured ground layer, medium thickness. Sharp modelling on the face gives 3D shadows.The hands are well foreshortened, the face is rather porcellaneous but the wig is voluminous and woolly. There is a pentimento at the left elbow.
Verso inscriptions
[1] Upper horizontal stretcher bar in white chalk: 259 [?]
[2] Central horizontal stretcher bar in white chalk: No 259 [over faint] No 231 [...] SMITH
[3] Lower horizontal stretcher bar in white chalk: [illegible]
[1] Verso top left of upper stretcher, printed: Royal Academy 1934 [torn]
[2] Verso top centre of horizontal stretcher bar, stencilled on paper: G.H. 60
Thomas Smith (c.1706/7-1762) was the natural son of Sir Thomas Lyttelton 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.
Related Drawings
D1 Study for the Portrait of Admiral Thomas Smith, National Galleries of Scotland
Related Prints
E1 John Faber the Younger, Thomas Smith Esq., Vice Admiral of the White, 1746, The British Museum (1935,0413.149) and other impressions

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Related Works by Other Artists
William Hogarth (1697-1764), Captain Thomas Coram, 1740, Foundling Museum, London
Critical commentary
Smith's taste for good living is implied by the open buttons of his waistcoat, barely concealing his ample girth. His face is close to the Edinburgh drawing (D1). A 'spirited half-length portrait' of Smith 'painted by the celebrated Richard Wilson, previous to his visiting Rome' is mentioned by his great nephew, John Thomas Smith (see Bibliography).
Previous Cat/Ref Nos
Museum File: G10/1(iii)/08
Letter 1751; Farington Biographical Note; Edwards 1808, p. 80; Smith 1828 [?], vol. 1, p. 141; J.T. Smith, A Book for a Rainy Day, 1845, pp. 3-4; Commemorative Catalogue 1934, p. 29, cat. 96, pl. XXXV; Waterhouse 1953, p. 174, pl. 128A; WGC, p. 151, pl. 2a; Sale cat., The Lyttelton Papers, Sotheby's London, 12 December 1978, p.101 (cat. 79)
Link to WG Constable Archive Record
More Information
The three ships at the left show a red flag (on the foremost) and red drapes on the middle ship. 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).
Dimensions framed: 142.8 x 119 x 10 cm. Old damage upper right; old damage to left of the face; darkened retouchings on all edges. 1980: Varnish removal, relined, revarnished, retouched. The frame is probably original but it is unflatteringly painted in gold paint. Kate Lowry has noted: Fine plain weave linen canvas with cusping at all edges. Original turnovers missing since glue lining undertaken. In 1980 it was relined again as the glue lining turnovers were brittle and splitting and there was a general tendency to raised craquelure and flaking of paint across centre and lower edge of costume. This latest lining is onto Tencate fabric with Beva 371. The discoloured varnish was removed during this treatment and before cleaning, a series of paint samples were taken and prepared in cross-section. Present stretcher dates from 1979-80 relining. Previous stretcher dated from the earlier glue lining, probably late 19th century. Original stretcher members were narrower, possibly five in number and vection cracks visible in raking light photos (taken before relining) show their location. There is an old V shaped tear at upper left in background, with associated paint loss and retouching. Ground is cream-coloured and consists of two layers with intervening size layer. It has a granular texture, possibly caused by the formation of lead soaps on ageing.
The shadows of the flesh tones are a warm brown painted over the basic flesh mid-tone. Cross-sections prepared from paint samples show that all colours, apart from the blue of the sky, are underpainted with a grey or warm-brown layer.
Viewed under UV light, most damages are in the upper background to either side of the head. The face is in good condition. Small retouched damage in cravat. The hands and face are fully cleaned, whilst some older varnish layer remains over the lower half of the figure.