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Early Georgian Portraits Catalogue

Tobias George Smollett (1721-1771), Novelist

A hitherto unknown miniature inscribed Doctor Tobias Smollett has mounted in the back of its frame a much smaller miniature of His most particular friend Geo: Renner Esqr.. The relative sizes and these words perhaps imply that the miniature belonged to Renner who was acting as Smollett's agent in Leghorn in 1771. [1] Nothing is known of the history of the pair before their recent acquisition from a Midlands antique shop by the present owner. The Smollett, however, may well be the source of the engraving by F. Aliamet (F. O'Donoghue and Sir Henry M. Hake, Catalogue of Engraved British Portraits ... in the British Museum, 1908-25, 3) which appeared as the frontispiece to Smollett's contemporary History of England published in 1763. The engraving was repeated several times with elaborations by 1790. A rather facile stipple engraving of a young-looking sitter by W. Ridley [2] (as after Reynolds, F. O'Donoghue and Sir Henry M. Hake, Catalogue of Engraved British Portraits ... in the British Museum, 1908-25, 1) in Cooke's Poets, 1777, is lettered from an Original Painting in the possession of the Rev. D. Smith. No original source is known for either of these portraits. A portrait reputedly painted for Voltaire is known only from a contemporary press reference:

‘The late Dr. Smollett, a short time before his death, at the particular request of Voltaire, sat to an eminent painter for his portrait, which was transmitted soon after to that celebrated genius, who sent the doctor a handsome diamond ring in return.' [3]
Doubtful Portraits
A three-quarter length by Verelst [4] signed and dated 1756, lent by A. Smollett to the Second Exhibition of National Portraits, South Kensington, 1867 (369), has since been exhibited on several occasions as representing the sitter. A portrait, perhaps the same, apparently at one time owned by Lord Woodhouselee, [5] was said to have belonged to Mrs Smollett. [6] A portrait signed and dated 1751 with features similar to the Verelst was at Christie's as 'Lord Rodney', 14 July 1930, lot 63. A portrait nearly whole length by Dance, at Christie's, 19 June 1970, lot 108, from the collection of Mrs A. E. Marsh, Bylaugh Park, Norfolk, is first recorded with Leggatt's in 1923. [7] The sitter is shown holding a volume of Gil Blas which he translated in 1749 but the book is too big for the duodecimo edition published that year; the second edition appeared in 1778 some years after his death. No portrait answering this description is mentioned by Duleep Singh [8] in the Lombe family portraits at Bylaugh Hall. Both the Verelst and the Dance are accepted by Knapp. While they may prove to be correct, no contemporary reference to them is apparently known.

1) Smollett had attended his marriage in 1769, The Letters of Tobias Smollett, ed. L. W. Knapp, 1970, pp 138, note 6, and p 141; L. W. Knapp, Tobias Smollett, 1949, pp 283-85. Anne, Renner's wife, nursed Smollett in his last illness and was a beneficiary of his will, ibid.
2) The only Ridley listed in U. Thieme and F. Becker, Allgemeines Lexikon der Bildenden Künstler, 1907-50 was born 1764.
3) The Chelmsford Chronicle, Friday, 8 November 1771; kindly communicated by Lillian de la Torre.
4) J. Caw, Scottish Portraits, 1903, reproduced pl.LXII. See further Notes and Queries, NS, vol. 23, 1976, pp 500-04.
5) Alexander Fraser Tytler (1747-1813), Lord Woodhouselee, Scottish judge-advocate and minor author, Dictionary of National Biography, XIX, p 1377; his Essay on Translation (1813) is critical of Smollett's translation of Don Quixote; Dictionary of National Biography, XVIII, p 585.
6) Dictionary of National Biography, XVIII, p 590.
7) Connoisseur, LXVII, November 1923, p 155.
8) Prince Frederick Duleep Singh, Portraits in Norfolk Houses, edited E. Farrer [1927], I, pp 63-66.

This extended catalogue entry is from the out-of-print National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: John Kerslake, Early Georgian Portraits, Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1977, and is as published then. For the most up-to-date details on individual Collection works, we recommend reading the information provided in the Search the Collection results on this website in parallel with this text.