Painting, "Miniature Portrait of Charles, 1st Marquis Cornwallis (1738-1805)"

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  • Attributed to:John Smart (1742/1743-1811)
  • Asia, South Asia, India
  • 1792-1795
  • Watercolor on ivory in copper alloy (once gilded) case
  • 2006-83

The image corresponds closely to three miniature portraits of Cornwallis executed by John Smart, all of them signed and dated 1792. Although Colonial Williamsburg's portrait is unsigned, the rendering of the face is stylistically attributable to Smart; the remainder of the composition appears to have been completed by one of the artist's studio assistants.

Americans best know Cornwallis as the British commander who surrendered his forces to George Washington at Yorktown, Virginia, on October 19, 1781, thereby effectively ending the Revolutionary War. Few acknowledge his outstanding tactical capabilities or the imminence of his post-Yorktown military career. In 1786, Cornwallis was appointed Governor-General of India, and he enjoyed great success there, both as an administrator and a solider. The prime version among Smart's three signed miniature portraits was done in Madras following Cornwallis's critical defeat of the sultan of Mysore; in recognition, he was granted the title of Marquis.

Smart was born near Norwich and spent most of his life in England, but from 1785 to 1795, he worked in India, where he portrayed many distinguished sitters. Most of these were Britons serving abroad, but he also recorded the visages of Muhammad Ali, the Nawab of Arcot, and his family.

Smart's work illustrates the high level of quality achieved by British miniaturists during the second half of the eighteenth century, and the portraits created during his decade in India are among his finest.

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