This portrait drawing of a young girl dates to the 1770s, when John Smart was establishing himself as one of the pre-eminent portrait miniaturists in London. Smart’s detailed technique of painting on ivory was possibly too time-consuming for his patrons and he used scaled pencil sketches, such as the present example, from which to work up the finished portrait. Colour notes and sitter’s details are often to be found on the reverse of these sketches, most of which were left by Smart in his studio at his death in 1811. In the event of a request for more than one portrait, Smart could refer to the sketch which he had taken from life.
During 1936 and 1937, the great grandchildren of John Smart sold a number of preparatory drawings at Christie’s Auction house in London. It is possible that the present work was among them.
The youthful appearance of the sitter here may indicate that this portrait represents her first foray into society – or this may be a sketch intended for her future husband. Smart’s detailed observation of dress and facial features provided his patrons with a life-like image of their loved-ones. Here in this sketch care has been taken to describe the dark brown eyes of the sitter and her warm complexion. Although it is believed that these sketches were for preparatory use only, the finished result may have encouraged the artist to draw more complex portraits on paper later in his career, which were regarded as finished works of art for public display.