Smart, John portrait of General Thomas Bruce

This month sees the fortunate addition to the collection of a miniature portrait by the famous miniature painter John Smart (1742/3-1811).

The sitter is identified on the rear as General Bruce and on the left front is signed "JS 1778" (apologies for the reflection). As it is on paper and hence fragile, I was reluctant to remove it from the frame to photograph, after more than 200 years unopened.

The purchase of this miniature does illustrate how it is possible to find miniatures by important artists at bargain prices, even if not very often. It is just necessary to gradually keep on accumulating knowledge and keeping one's eyes open for any opportunities that may arise. 

The miniature was one of 30 miniatures offered at an auction 400 miles away, so one for which it was necessary to make absentee bids. The other miniatures were of good average quality, but this one was not really rated by the auctioneer, being described only as; English School of General Bruce initialled & dated 'TS/1778'(?), painted on paper, ebonised fruitwood frame $200-400.

However, from the catalogue photo it appeared recognisable as a John Smart. On 10 June 2010 Christie's in London auctioned ten similar John Smart miniatures on paper which aggregated nearly £120,000, an average hammer price of £12,000 each. Hence it would not have been surprising if this one had sold well, for more than could have been afforded for this collection. With only a small photo in the auction catalogue, and being unable to actually view the miniature, it was difficult to be sure that it was a Smart, hence a relatively modest limit bid of $1200 was made, more in hope than expectation.  That faint hope was realised far below expectation, with the successful hammer price being $350.

Research into the sitter has since revealed him as General Thomas Bruce (1738 – 12 December 1797), a British soldier and politician, and the third son of William Bruce, 8th Earl of Kincardine. He was the Member of Parliament for Marlborough, 22 June 1790 – 30 May 1796, and Great Bedwyn, 28 May 1796 – 12 December 1797. He died at Exeter and is buried in the Lady Chapel at Exeter Cathedral, where he is described as Lieut General Thomas Bruce Colonel of the 16th regiment of foot and uncle of the Earl of Elgin, 1797. The army preferments of June 1786 record his promotion:"The Hon. Major General Thomas Bruce to be resident major general on the staff of Ireland vice Major General St Leger dec." 1460

The collection also includes these two identical bronze medals of miniature painter John Smart. The reverse is blank in both cases. In her book about John Smart, Daphne Foskett comments on the medal as follows.

"A medal bearing his portrait, modelled by Joachim Smith and cut by John Kirk, of which there are several versions, was struck in 1777, no doubt to celebrate the year he became Vice-President. At least two silver medals are known to exist, one engraved on the back "September 22, 1798". Several were struck in bronze, one in my own collection having "Sarah Neale" engraved on the reverse, and at least one has come to my attention made of a silver alloy."

The pair were purchased several years apart and it is not known how many more examples are in existence, but the medals do seem to be quite rare. 681

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