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John Smeaton

3 of 3 portraits of John Smeaton

John Smeaton, by Richard Woodman, published by  Charles Knight, after a painting attributed to  John Hamilton Mortimer, early 19th century - NPG D41730 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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John Smeaton

by Richard Woodman, published by Charles Knight, after a painting attributed to John Hamilton Mortimer
stipple engraving, early 19th century
11 3/8 in. x 7 7/8 in. (290 mm x 200 mm) plate size; 17 1/4 in. x 11 7/8 in. (438 mm x 301 mm) paper size
Purchased with help from the Friends of the National Libraries and the Pilgrim Trust, 1966
Reference Collection
NPG D41730

Sitterback to top

  • John Smeaton (1724-1792), Civil engineer. Sitter in 3 portraits.

Artistsback to top

  • Charles Knight (1791-1873), Writer and publisher. Artist associated with 9 portraits, Sitter in 3 portraits.
  • John Hamilton Mortimer (1740-1779), History painter. Artist associated with 12 portraits, Sitter in 6 portraits.
  • Richard Woodman (1784-1859), Engraver and portrait painter. Artist associated with 30 portraits.

Placesback to top

Events of 1800back to top

Current affairs

Widespread food riots after poor harvests of 1798-9. Theorist, Thomas Malthus, controversially argues that poverty and food shortages are an inevitable consequence of population growth, challenging assumptions that populousness was a sign of national prosperity and power. His thesis contributed forcefully to the debate over the existing Poor Law.

Art and science

William Wordsworth publishes his Preface to the Lyrical Ballads; a retrospective explanation of his experimental poems written with Samuel Taylor Coleridge. It becomes one of the best-known manifestos of Romantic literature.


Lord Castlereagh, Chief Secretary for Ireland, is the main architect of the Act of Union under which Ireland is merged with Great Britain and the Irish parliament is abolished.
British troops support successful uprising by Maltese against the French.
Napoleon is victorious against Austrians at Marengo and reconquers Italy.

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Julia Webb

25 September 2015, 09:58

Professor Robin Marshall FRS

The engraving by Richard Woodman, is attributed to Mortimer and it even says so on the print. However, this is a mistake and the painter was Mather Brown. John Smeaton's close friend Alexr Aubert FRS donated the painting to the Royal Society in 1799, seven years after Smeaton's fatal accident. The Royal Society has the letter that accompanied the donation and in the letter is says that the painting is by Mather Brown.

Publisher Charles Knight was always under heavy pressure and he just made a mistake when he typeset the attribution of the original painter on the print.

Dear Professor Marshall,

Thank you for this very useful information, which has been recorded for future researchers. The Royal Society online Picture Library for the painting, RS.9720, quotes the letter sent at the time of donation “I beg leave to present to the Royal Society a Picture of my late much esteemed Friend Mr. John Smeaton, Civil Engineer and Fellow of the Society, whose memory will ever be dear to all Lovers of Science & particularly to those who were acquainted with him it was painted by Mr. Mather Brown a few years before his death & is allowed to be a striking resemblance of him...“ [Letter, Alexander Aubert, 7 November 1799, to Sir Joseph Banks, Royal Society Letters, RSL/3/3].

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