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John Smith

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    London (published)

  • Date:

    1716 (dated)
    1716 (signed)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Kneller, Godfrey Bt (Sir), born 1646 - died 1723 (artist)
    Smith, John (printmaker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Mezzotint, ink on paper, in a contemporary frame

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, Room 52, The George Levy Gallery, case WS

Object Type
This is a print, of a type called mezzotint, a form of tonal engraving in which the design is made by pitting the surface of a copper plate with a serrated tool called a rocker, then smoothing and scraping the roughened surface so that different areas of the plate will hold varying quantities of ink. This creates a range of velvety tones and white highlights when the image is printed on to the paper.

The painter, Godfrey Kneller, was born in Germany and came to London around 1676. The foremost portrait painter of his generation in England, he was knighted in 1692.

The printmaker, John Smith, was born near Northampton. He worked in London as a mezzotinter.

Kneller and Smith were artistic collaborators and friends. Smith enjoyed a virtual monopoly on the making of prints after portraits by Kneller, from 1689 until Kneller's death in 1723, because Kneller allowed Smith privileged access to his paintings.

In 1696 Kneller painted a portrait of Smith showing him holding his mezzotint of a self-portrait by Kneller. In 1716, Smith made this mezzotint of the painting.

This print gives no publisher's address. It was a private plate, not for sale on the open market. Instead, the sitter would have distributed examples of it. It may have been intended as a frontispiece to the bound sets of Smith's mezzotints, which he put together and sold to print collectors. Smith was the first British printmaker to earn the admiration of print collectors outside England, in countries such as France, The Netherlands, Germany and Italy, which had long and distinguished printmaking traditions of their own.

Physical description

Currently mounted on acid-free card 41 x 32, in half imp mount 53.4 x 38.

Place of Origin

London (published)


1716 (dated)
1716 (signed)


Kneller, Godfrey Bt (Sir), born 1646 - died 1723 (artist)
Smith, John (printmaker)

Materials and Techniques

Mezzotint, ink on paper, in a contemporary frame


Height: 36 cm paper, Width: 27 cm paper

Object history note

After a painting by Sir Godfrey Kneller (born in Lbeck, Germany,1646, died in London, 1723); mezzotinted by John Smith (born in Northampton, 1652, died in 1743); published in London

Descriptive line

Mezzotint portrait of John Smith holding a portrait of Sir Godfrey Kneller, after a painting by Sir Godfrey Kneller, mezzotinted by John Smith, published in London, 1716

Labels and date

British Galleries:
By 1700 the mezzotint had become the preferred process for creating multiple reproductions of portraits. John Smith was the leading mezzotinter of this period. About a half of his 280 mezzotint portraits were based on painted portraits by Sir Godfrey Kneller. They were relatively expensive despite the fact that large numbers were produced. [27/03/2003]

Subjects depicted

Artists; Portraits; Prints; Wigs; Men


Prints; Portraits


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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