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The Scottish Nation

SMIBERT, JOHN, an eminent artist, whose works are described as having had a powerful and lasting influence on the arts of design in America, was born in the Grassmarket, Edinburgh, about 1684. His father was a dyer. He served his apprenticeship to a house-painter in his native city; but, anxious to raise himself above that humble occupation, he repaired to London, where, for subsistence, he was at first obliged to work for coach-painters. He was subsequently employed in copying pictures for dealers, and obtained admittance into the academy. After pursuing his studies there for some time, he found means to visit Italy, where he spent three years in copying Raphael, Titian, Vandyck, and Reubens, and became the fellow-traveller of the celebrated Dean Berkeley, afterwards bishop of Cloyne, in Ireland. While at Florence he was engaged by the grand duke of Tuscany to paint two or three Siberian Tartars presented to his highness by the Czar of Russia. On his return to England his improvement was so great that he soon obtained a large share of business.

In 1728, when his friend Dr. Berkeley went to America to found a university in the Island of Bermuda, for the conversion of the American savages to Christianity, he took Smibert with him as professor of drawing, painting, and architecture, in his intended institution; and with this learned and philanthropic individual he resided for two years at Newport, Rhode Island. A large painting by Smibert, representing Berkeley and some of his family, with the artist himself, on their first landing in America, is shown at Yale College, being, it is believed, the first picture of more than a single figure ever painted in the United States.

Being disappointed in obtaining assistance from England, Berkeley abandoned his project of a university, and after his return to Britain Smibert settled at Boston in New England, where he married a daughter of Dr. Williams, the Latin school-master of that town, by whom he had two children. He acquired considerable fortune and a high reputation by his art, and died there in 1751. His son, Nathaniel, who died young, was also an artist of much promise. Some account of Smibert, who was an acquaintance and correspondent of Allan Ramsay, will be found in Walpole’s ‘Anecdotes of Painting,’ and in Dunlap’s valuable ‘History of the Rise and Progress of the Arts of Design in the United States.’

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