Robert Smirke RA, Study for Naval Commemorative Plate - Original 1803 drawing


An original 1803 pen & ink drawing, Robert Smirke RA Study for Naval Commemorative Plate.

A delicate study by Robert Smirke RA (1753 –1845) for a larger commemorative engraved plate, in ink and grey wash drawing over graphite.

Robert Smirke RA produced a number of striking plates commemorating British naval victories of the late 18th century. As such, he contributed to the arts of naval victory, despite Smirke himself making no secret of his own democratic opinions.

This design features a number of cameo portraits and bears the motto 'splendor septentriones,' which can mean 'the splendour of the seven stars' or 'the splendour of the North’. Allegorical figures from classical antiquity are used to give the design stature and gravitas – with Athena or Minerva (goddess of wisdom, craft, and war) to the right and Asclepius (hero and god of medicine) to the left. The central figure on horseback resembles The Bronze Horseman monument to Peter the Great in St Petersburg - suggesting that this commemorative design perhaps relates to the coalition victory of the Great Northern War.

This design is very similar to other commemorative plates by Smirke such as a series of four plates, dating from 1803, copies of which are in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery, London. These included his famous ‘The Victory of the Nile’, engraved by John Landseer, which features medallion portraits of Lord Nelson and his fourteen naval captains, flanked by allegorical figures of Fame and Nile – in tribute to Nelson's victory over the French at the Battle of the Nile in 1798.

This beautiful study has a sensitivity and charm which is lost in the more grand and formal finished, engraved plates. 

This is one of two drawings by Smirke that we have for sale, which we acquired as a pair.

Inscribed verso: 'Smirke' and with what appears to be a historic accession number.
In very good condition for its age. There is some very faint foxing to the verso, which does not affect the front, and some minor age toning to lower edge of the paper, as shown.
16.5cm x 12.1cm.

Robert Smirke RA (1753 –1845) was an English painter and illustrator, who specialised in small paintings showing subjects taken from literature. From an early age his was apprenticed to a heraldic artist, then studied at the Royal Academy Schools. In 1791 he was elected an associate of the Royal Academy, then in 1793 he became a full academician. In 1804 he was nominated to succeed Joseph Wilton as keeper to the Royal Academy, but George III refused to sanction the appointment on account of his revolutionary political opinions.

Smirke's pictures were usually of small size and painted in monochrome, and so adapted for engraving. He designed illustrations for numerous publications, including the Bible, The Picturesque Beauties of Shakespeare, John Boydell's Shakespeare Gallery and for Bowyer's History of England.

Smirke’s sons Robert and Sydney were notable architects and members of the Royal Academy, Richard was a notable antiquarian artist, and Edward was a noted lawyer and antiquary.

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Product code: JJ-254

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