This insightful and colourful portrait, previously unidentified but now known to depict Caroline Milnes, is a striking example of Smith’s capabilities as a pastellist displaying an understanding and expertise of the medium which is equal to some of the great pastellists such as his contemporary John Russell. Influenced by the work of Sir Joshua Reynolds he has confidently rendered on the small scale all the vibrancy and confidence normally seen in much larger oils.
Caroline Milnes was the daughter of Richard Slater Milnes (1759-1804) of Fryston Hall, Yorkshire, M.P. for the city of York. Her nephew, Richard Monkton, 1st Lord Houghton was a poet and great patron of English literature furthering the careers of both Tennyson and Swinburne.
Born in Derby John Raphael Smith was the son and pupil of the landscape painter Thomas Smith. Moving to London around 1767 he is chiefly remembered for his engravings after paintings by Reynolds. He scraped his first mezzotint in 1769 and by 1784 he was mezzotint engraver to the Prince of Wales. He started as a miniaturist and continued throughout his life to produce small pastel portraits which it is recorded he executed at great speed and dexterity, some within an hour. From 1773 to 1805 he exhibited at the Royal Academy some 73 times.