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Smith, John

Date born: 1781

Place Born: ?

Date died: 1855

Place died: Hanwell, Middlesex, UK

Art dealer and writer; founded a model of catalogue raisonné writing; early scholar of Rubens and Rembrandt. Smith was the son of John Smith and Anne Smith.  He apprenticed and worked as a carver and gilder, marrying at an early age the niece of Lord Mountjoy.  All his sons were from that union.  He founded a private art dealership in Great Marlborough Street, London and later New Bond Street where the dealers were clustered. His firm attracted wealthy customers such as Sir Robert Peel, the Duke of Wellington and the Rothschilds. His art dealing brought him to the realization that a reference text for artists in English needed to be written.  Beginning in 1829, he published through subscription and sales a catalogue raisonné of northern European artists, Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish and French Painters.  Smith provided detailed descriptions of each work, prices, collections, known engravings of the paintings as well as and followers and copyists. The series was completed in 1837 with a supplement volume appearing in 1842. The book quickly became indispensable for English-speaking collectors, dealers and scholars of Dutch pictures, and, like modern catalogues raisonné, greatly increased the market price of the described works.  Smith was married three more times, the second time to a widow of the art dealer Artaria, a third time a Miss Pauncefort who died shortly thereafter.  His final marriage was to a “Miss Newell.” He retired to a home in Hanwell, Middlesex, which he named Bydorp House where he died in 1855.  His sons took over the family business and ran it until 1874.  Over fifty years after his death, the Dutch connoisseur Cornelis Hofstede de Groot revised his work, discounting many works, and published a version in English beginning in 1907.

Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish and French Painters is landmark in connoisseurship containing all the element of today’s canonical art-historical monograph (Turner). Smith favored Dutch painters, including 33, as opposed to only four Flemish (Rubens, van Dyck, David Teniers and Gonzales Coques) and three French (Claude, Poussin and Greuze).  To a great degree, he reflects mid-19th-century contemporary taste.  He omitted Dutch artists valued today such as Adriaen Brouwer, Carel Fabritius, Jan van Goyen, Frans Hals, and Johannes Vermeer. However, his overview of Dutch painting is the first modern approach, best exemplified in his treatment of Rembrandt (Turner). Because of the limits of the discipline of connoisseurship (and perhaps his hopes as a dealer), many of Smith’s attributions have proven over-optimistic.  As a dealer, he provided advice on cleaning and lining pictures. He is occasionally confused in historiographic literature with John Thomas Smith, a Keeper of the Print Room of the British Museum. LS

Home Country: United Kingdom

Sources:“Smith’s ‘Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish and French Painters’: A Memoir of the Author by his Grandson.” Connoisseur 5 (1903): 214-216; Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis. “Preface.”  A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century. Vol. 1  London: Macmillan and co., limited, 1907, pp. v-xi; Martin, John Rupert. The Ceiling Paintings for the Jesuit Church in Antwerp. London and New York: Phaidon, 1968. Mentioned, pp. ix, xiii; Turner, S. J. “Smith, John (ii).”  Dictionary of Art

Bibliography: A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish and French Painters, in which Is Included a Short Biographical Notice of the Artists, with a Copious Description of their Principal Pictures: a Statement of the Prices at which such Pictures Have Been Sold at Public Sales on the Continent and in England; a Reference to the Galleries and Private Collections in which a Large Portion Are at Present: and the Names of the Artists by whom they Have Been Engraved: to which Is Added a Brief Notice of the Scholars and Imitators of the Great Masters of the above School.  8 vols. and supplement.  London: Smith and Son, 1829-1842.

Subject's name: John Smith