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Sydney Smith

Sydney Smith, by Edwin Landseer, circa 1835 -NPG 4917 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Regency Portraits Catalogue

Sydney Smith

by Edwin Landseer
circa 1835
9 3/8 in. x 7 3/8 in. (239 mm x 187 mm)
NPG 4917

Inscriptionback to top

Inscribed in ink on the original mount: Sydney Smith Sir Ed Lr

This portraitback to top

The drawing bears a close resemblance to the slightly more formidable profile done at about the same time (see NPG 2887). Landseer delighted in making satirical drawings of the Smith of Smiths. One from the same album as NPG 4917 shows him standing in front of a fireplace (? at Holland House), head sunk deep in shoulders, perhaps submerged in one of those depressions of which he wrote in a famous letter to Lady Georgiana Morpeth, 16 February 1820.
Landseer evidently agreed with Macaulay's description, '... the queer contrast between his black coat and his snow-white head, and the equally curious contrast between the clerical amplitude of his person and the most unclerical wit, whim and petulance of his eye ...' (Macaulay to his father 21 July 1826).
Two other drawings are at Baron's Court (Duke of Abercorn) – whole-length standing, and whole-length standing before a fire, exhibited 'Sir Edwin Landseer', RA ,1961 (118); two others are in the British Museum Red Redleaf Scrapbook - side view in glasses (p 5) and three-quarter-length with Newfoundland dog (p 38a).
Smith's famous bon mot, 'Is thy servant a dog that he should do this thing?', made when told of Landseer's wish to paint his portrait, probably actually originated with J. G. Lockhart.

The 9 satirical drawings [NPG 4914-22] came from an album of 93 drawings, mostly by Landseer, others by Wilkie and D'Orsay, consisting of caricatures, figure and animal studies. The majority are in pen and brown ink, some with brown wash, a few with additions in red chalk, watercolour or sealing wax. The collection was probably formed by Charles Bennet, 6th Earl of Tankerville who as Lord Ossulston was MP for North Northumberland 1832-59 and very much a man about town. Landseer's first meeting with Ossulston is described dramatically in Reminiscences of Life in the Highlands, Landseer being caught red-handed poaching a stag in Glen Feshie forest.
They became firm friends and the 'Hunting of Chevy Chase' (Birmingham Art Gallery) was conceived on a visit to Chillingham in 1825. The first drawing in the album was Landseer and a servant leaving Chillingham Castle 27 September 1835; the earliest dated drawing was 1832, the latest, an illustrated letter from Landseer to Ossulston, 10 October 1852. The album was probably put together at Chillingham Castle by Lady Ida Tankerville, Lord Ossulston's daughter (b. 1857) who married the 13th Earl of Dalhousie in 1877, and was in the family possession until its sale at Christie's in 1972.

Physical descriptionback to top

Three-quarter-length in profile to left with cynical smile and prominent paunch, allegorical emblems of Good and Evil (or Church and State) in background, a corpulent priest with tonsure and pink head (in watercolour) and above him a winged devil with blotch of red watercolour.

Provenanceback to top

Chillingham Castle (Earl of Tankerville), Lady Ida Tankerville and to her grandson David Patrick Ramsay, Christie's 11 July 1972 (23) bought Agnew and sold to the NPG.

Exhibitionsback to top

'Sir Edwin Landseer', Philadelphia Museum of Art and Tate Gallery, 1981-2 (87).


This extended catalogue entry is from the out-of-print National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: Richard Walker, Regency Portraits, National Portrait Gallery, 1985, 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.

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