John Smibert

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John Smibert
1739 JohnSmibert self portrait BermudaGroup detail Yale.png
Self-portrait by the artist dated from 1728-1739
Born24 March 1688
Died2 April 1751 (aged 63)
NationalityScottish American

John Smibert (rarely spelled Smybert) was a Scottish American artist born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on 24 March 1688, and died in Boston, Massachusetts, British America on 2 April 1751.[1]


Smibert began drawing while apprenticed as a painter and plasterer in Edinburgh. On moving to London in 1709[2] he worked as a coach painter and copyist.

1713-1716, he studied under Godfrey Kneller at the Great Queen Street Academy, then returned to Edinburgh, seeking work as portraitist.[2] Smibert travelled to Italy from 1719 to 1722 to copy old masters and then settled in London where he worked as a portrait painter from 1722-1728.[2]

Smibert became a member of the Rose and Crown Club and made a sketch for a group portrait of its members, including George Vertue, John Wootton, Thomas Gibson, Bernard Lens, and other artists.

Among his London portraits is one of Bishop Berkeley[3] who, in 1728, enticed Smibert to accompanied him to America, with the intention of becoming professor of fine arts in the college which Berkeley was planning to found in Bermuda. The college, however, was never established, and Smibert settled in Boston, where he married in 1730. He lived at the corner of Brattle Street and Queen-Street.[4][5] He belonged to the Scots Charitable Society of Boston.

Bishop George Berkeley 1727
The Bermuda Group (Dean Berkeley and His Entourage), begun in 1728, finished 1739. Yale University Art Gallery
Sir John Rushout, Bt by John Smibert
Plaque at Granary Burying Ground in Boston commemorating Smibert

In 1728 he began painting "Dean George Berkeley and His Family," also called "The Bermuda group", now in the Yale University Art Gallery, Yale University, a group of eight figures; it is maintained that the person farthest to the left is actually the artist himself. He painted portraits of Jonathan Edwards and Judge Edmund Quincy (in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston), Mrs Smibert, Peter Faneuil and Governor John Endecott (in the Massachusetts Historical Society), John Lovell (Memorial Hall, Harvard University), and probably one of Sir William Pepperrell; and examples of his works are owned by Harvard and Yale Universities, by Bowdoin College, by the Massachusetts Historical Society, and by the New England Historical and Genealogical Society.

In 1734, Smibert opened a shop where he sold paint, other artist's supplies, and prints. In his studio above the shop, he displayed casts and copies of Old Masters that he had painted in Europe. This collection, which Richard Saunders has termed "America's first art gallery", provided much of the early artistic education for Charles Willson Peale, Gilbert Stuart, and John Trumbull.[1]

Between 1740 and 1742, he served as architect for the original Faneuil Hall, which he designed in the style of an English country market. The hall burned down in 1761 but was restored, and then in 1806 greatly expanded and modified by Charles Bulfinch.

His son Nathaniel was also a painter. Smibert lies in an unmarked grave in the Granary Burying Ground in Boston.

Selected works[edit]


Advertisement for "John Smibert, painter, sells all sorts of colours, dry or ground, with oils and brushes. ... Wholesale or retail at reasonable rates, at his house in Queen-Street, between the Town-House and the orange tree, Boston," 1734
  1. ^ a b John Smibert, Oxford Art Online
  2. ^ a b c Richard H. Saunders, John Smibert: Colonial America's first portrait painter, Yale University Press, 1995.
  3. ^ Cust, Lionel Henry (1897). "Smibert, John" . In Lee, Sidney (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography. 52. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  4. ^ Weekly Rehearsal, Oct. 21, 1734; May 26, 1735
  5. ^ David Kruh. Always something doing: Boston's infamous Scollay Square, rev. ed. Boston: Northeastern Univ. Press, 1999; p.34.

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Smybert, John". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.

Further reading[edit]

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