Oil paintings, Fine art, Maritime Art Greenwich

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Commodore Thomas Smith, 1707-62

Oil paintings

Object connections:

Collection Oil paintings, Fine art, Maritime Art Greenwich
Gallery locationNot on display
PeopleProvenance: Martin, George
Depiction: Smith, Thomas
Artist: Wilson, Richard

Object details:

Object ID BHC3032
Description A three-quarter-length portrait to right in a grey velvet coat with looped gold braid detailing round the buttons, ending in an elaborate knot of sequins. The coat is lined with red silk and waistcoat and breeches are of the same material. White lace froths at the cuffs and collar. Smith wears a grey full-bottomed wig and leans on the plinth of a broken column, holding a telescope in his left hand. Through attention to detail and the use of rich fabrics, the artist reveals the status of the sitter. His taste for good living is implied by the open buttons of his waistcoat barely concealing his ample girth. When Smith was a junior lieutenant in the 'Gosport', 43 guns, in 1728, he achieved some notoriety by forcing a French corvette visiting Plymouth to salute him and dip her pennant on her departure. This resulted in a small international incident and Smith's subsequent removal from the Navy for a few months. The incident was exaggerated by the press and saw Smith popularly named 'Tom of Ten Thousand'. He pursued an active naval career but remained in relative obscurity, until the unlucky fortune of being senior officer at Portsmouth at the time made him president of the court martial of Admiral John Byng, in 1756-57. When Byng was found guilty of neglect of duty, Smith was obliged to pronounce the death sentence on him, albeit with a strong recommendation for clemency. When George II declined to grant it Byng was shot at Portsmouth. However, this portrait is over ten years earlier since it was engraved as a mezzotint by John Faber with a title describing Smith as 'Vice Admiral of Ye White, Commander in Chief of his Majesty's Ships on the Coast of Scotland, Anno 1746'. This was either issued that year or shortly afterwards (for the print see PAF3417). The artist was born in Wales and from 1729 trained for six years as a portrait painter in London, under Thomas Wright. He had built up a relatively successful portrait practice by the 1740s but in 1750 he travelled to Italy, where his experiences inspired him to turn to landscape painting. It is for his subsequent work in this area that he is most famous, notably the fusion of classical composition with an incipient personal romanticism in his style of painting. On his return to London, from 1757, he helped found the Royal Academy and was for some time the master of William Hodges, the artist of Cook's second voyage, 1772-75.
Date made circa 1744

Artist/Maker Wilson, Richard
Credit National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Greenwich Hospital Collection
Materials oil on canvas
Measurements Painting: 1260 mm x 1020 mm; Frame: 1438 mm x 1195 mm x 102 mm
  • Commodore Thomas Smith, 1707-62 (BHC3032)
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